By Wendy Gabriel on December 06, 2012

Has greenwashing reached obscene heights by using sustainable buzzwords like "recycling" and "recycled"?

I am obviously a big fan of recycling. There are many brilliant people developing products that utilize recycled materials, and in the process reduce the amount of virgin resources we use.

One example is Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe Program, and another is REUSE Jeans, which, by utilizing 80% recycled cotton in its jeans, saves an incredible amount of resources, including an eye-opening amount of water for every pair. There are also products that should never be put into landfills, such as electronic waste, and finding solutions for efficient recycling for these products are a must.

Dasani recycled PlantBottle

Is Dasani's PlantBottle a product of the evolution of greenwashing?

But recycling also has a dark side.

There are companies touting products as "environmentally friendly" because they use less plastic and contain recycled materials. But are these products better for the environment, or are the manufacturers of these disposable items using sustainable buzzwords as a way to market consumption as environmentalism?One example that comes to mind is Dasani. Not only is the company selling something that we can get without the plastic bottle, but its new PlantBottle packaging is also advertised to be up to 30% plant-based plastic while still being 100% recyclable. Dasani’s site explains that the company is also reducing the weight of the bottle because, “lighter bottles require less plastic, which helps to conserve natural resources and lower CO2 emissions.” Is it better to use less plastic and find plant-based alternatives? Absolutely. But is buying a bottle of water environmentally friendly? Probably not.

The reason is twofold. First, we all know that fresh, clean water is essential to life. According to the Protected Water Fund, of the world’s total water supply, 97% is seawater, and of the remaining 3%, less than 0.5% is usable, clean water. We should be conserving this precious resource, not pumping it into plastic bottles.

Second, although the plastic is recyclable, most plastic beverage bottles are not recycled. According to the Container Recycling Institute, “Around 636 thousand tons of PET plastic beverage bottles were recycled nationwide in 2006, but more than three times as much PET was wasted: 2 million tons.”

So, the next time you see a company hyping a wonderful disposable product that is also environmentally friendly, decide if you really need it or if you could find a truly sustainable alternative. When we reduce the amount of products we buy in the first place, and reuse what we can, that is when we know we are reducing the environmental harm associated with acquiring raw materials and manufacturing.

About the author

Wendy Gabriel is a freelance eco-writer now based in Fresno, California. Gabriel and her work have been featured in numerous publications and websites including the Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox Business News and Mashable.com. For nearly six years, she was a weekly contributor on a popular radio talk show in the Upper Midwest with a segment titled "Simple Tips for Green Living." Gabriel is an avid recycler, rainwater harvester, composter, thrifter and was instrumental in coordinating the planning and creation of a large mural made with recycled materials at a local elementary school in Fargo, North Dakota. Gabriel was the driving force behind starting a school garden program implemented at several Fargo schools. The founder of MyGreenSide.org and tweeting under @MyGreenSide, Gabriel has gone from the freezer (Fargo) to the furnace (Fresno) and could not be happier exploring California with the loves of her life, her husband and two daughters.
Learn more about Wendy Gabriel

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