In today's heightened environmental consciousness, consumers actively seek products that align with their sustainability values. However, amidst the rising demand for eco-friendly alternatives, the deceptive practice of greenwashing has sadly emerged.
“Australia, like many other countries, faces the challenge of tackling greenwashing while promoting genuine sustainability efforts,” Nadia Steele from Biotuff says. “There needs to be a strong emphasis on educating the eco-conscious community to check the certification standards for compostable and biodegradable products.”
What Is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing refers to businesses misleading consumers by promoting a product or company as environmentally friendly when it is not. This can involve various tactics, from utilising deceptive marketing campaigns and presenting an illusion of sustainability to diverting attention from harmful practices or tiny environmental benefits.
“As a result, consumers with strong, sustainable values may unknowingly support businesses that contribute to environmental degradation rather than making genuinely sustainable choices,” Steele says. “The consumer needs to be more educated than ever before to ensure the products they choose fit the needs and ethics they expect.”
How To Spot Greenwashing
Misleading Packaging - Some businesses will use nature-inspired imagery or words like "natural" or "green" on their product packaging, creating an illusion of eco-friendliness. However, these claims may not reflect the product's actual environmental impact or the company's overall practices. Therefore, consumers must check for the correct certification symbols and codes.
Vague Terminology - Generic terms like "eco-friendly" or "green" can be misleading if not backed by concrete evidence or transparent information about the product's actual sustainable credentials. With specific details, it becomes easier for consumers to make informed choices. Research is critical to identify what companies you want to support and those using their environmental stance as a marketing ploy.
False Certification Claims - Greenwashing can involve misusing or misrepresenting certifications and labels. Some products may display logos or claims that imply a certain level of environmental friendliness without proper accreditation or meeting the required standards. Always look for the Australian Standards accredited certified compostable AS4736 and AS5810 on the packaging.
“Luckily, in Australia, the laws are quickly catching up to try and protect our communities from this type of marketing, which has the potential to cause more damage to our environment,” Steele says. “Australia has taken several steps to protect consumers and promote authenticity in sustainable products. However, it still largely lies on the consumer to check, research, and report if they suspect greenwashing is occurring.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) actively monitors and investigates misleading environmental claims. They also enforce laws to ensure companies provide accurate and transparent information to consumers. The development of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Green Marketing and Advertising Guidelines also provides businesses with guidelines for making legitimate environmental claims and avoiding deceptive practices.
“In Australia, for a plastic material to claim biodegradability and composability, it must adhere to the stringent guidelines set forth by the Australian standard AS 4736‐2006,” Steele says. “This standard establishes the criteria for assessing plastic materials intended for biodegradation in aerobic composting facilities, both at the municipal and commercial levels.”
While this Australian standard shares similarities with the well-known European EN 13432 standard, it includes an additional requirement known as the worm test.
According to Australasian Bioplastics Association in order to adhere to AS 4736‐2006, plastic materials must fulfill the following criteria:
Biodegradation: Plastic materials should achieve a minimum of 90% biodegradation within 180 days in composting conditions.
Disintegration: At least 90% of the plastic materials should disintegrate into particles smaller than 2mm within 12 weeks in compost.
Compost Quality: The resulting compost should demonstrate no toxic effects on plants and earthworms, ensuring suitability for agricultural or horticultural applications.
Hazardous Substances: Plastic materials must not contain dangerous substances beyond the permitted maximum levels, such as heavy metals.
Organic Content: Plastic materials should consist of more than 50% organic materials, further emphasising their environmentally friendly composition.
By meeting these requirements, plastic materials can demonstrate their compliance with AS 4736‐2006, ensuring their biodegradability and composability under Australian standards.
Biotuff is a proud member of the Australasian Bioplastics Association and encourages all Australians to get familiar with this certification and to double-check the bioplastics they purchase contain the correct standards to avoid misleading marketing.
“To escape falling victim to greenwashing, consumers should verify the certification standards associated with compostable and biodegradable products they purchase,” Steele says. “Certification standards provide a reliable way to confirm that a product has undergone rigorous testing and meets specific environmental criteria.”
“This ensures that the product's claims are backed by credible evidence, so it’s vital you become savvy with the certification code AS 4736‐2006 and ensure the products you choose display this on their packaging.”
Certification standards assess the entire life cycle of a product, including raw material sourcing, production processes, and disposal methods. By checking certifications, consumers can evaluate the true environmental impact of a product.
“Certified products will often proudly display clear information about their composability or biodegradability, including recommended disposal methods and timelines,” Steele says. “Allowing consumer empowerment to make responsible choices and correctly manage the products after use.”
Greenwashing poses a significant challenge to sustainability efforts worldwide, including in Australia. Consumers play a crucial role in combating this practice by staying informed and checking certification standards for compostable and biodegradable products.
“Education around greenwashing is paramount as to the promotion of credible certifications,” Steele says. “This is the only way consumers can make truly sustainable choices and contribute to a greener future.”
Australia's consumer protection laws and efforts to establish certification standards demonstrate the nation's commitment to promoting authenticity in the pursuit of sustainability. However, these practices can still fall under the radar without consumer understanding and education.