24th of April 2018BioPak news

ACCC clamping down on misleading environmental claims – demystifying 'biodegradable' and 'compostable'

As consumer trust in advertising falls, and global awareness of the environmental impact of our consumption habits rises, companies are rushing to highlight the ‘eco-friendly’ aspects of their products in a bid to appeal to the conscious consumer and increase sales.

While these environmental claims are a powerful marketing tool when used correctly, they’re sometimes used in ways that are confusing or misleading. Also known as ‘greenwashing’, these claims may reference ecological footprints, recycled content, impact on the natural environment, and of course biodegradability. But there is little clarity around what’s actually biodegradable with certification often omitted and timeframes to decompose undefined, so the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is clamping down.

Environmental benefits overstated or deliberately vague

Global awareness regarding the environmental impact of plastic packaging is reaching critical mass, and as consumers begin demanding alternatives, almost every major retailer and brand owner has made a commitment to reducing plastic wherever possible and are seeking alternatives to single-use plastic products.

This has created significant demand and manufacturers are scrambling to take advantage of the situation – in their haste to ensure they do not lose market share some of the environmental benefits are either being overstated or vague terminology is used in order to make their products appear more sustainable than they really are.

Demystifying ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ packaging

According to the ACCC, companies that make environmental or green claims should ensure that their claims are scientifically sound and appropriately substantiated.

Compostable claims must be independently certified to local home or commercial compost standards, and the type of compost environment – home or commercial – must be stated to avoid misleading the consumer.

Claiming a product is compostable in writing or with visually with symbols may be misleading unless unless you qualify that a product can be only composted through specialised independent composting and collection facilities. This is particularly the case when no or only a few facilities exist, when they are not available to the public or they are only pilot plants.

Things become murkier when it comes to defining ‘biodegradability’, as technically, everything is biodegradable given sufficient time. Unlike certified compostable products, in Australia and New Zealand there are no industry standards required in order to describe a product as biodegradable.

But, describing a product as ‘100 percent biodegradable’ or ‘100 percent degradable’ is an absolute claim that usually means ‘entirely’ or ‘totally’, indicating that the whole of the product will biodegrade or degrade in the same way and over the same time period—and that’s not likely.

Working together, for a better future

The recent ACCC decision to fine Pental $700,000 for breaching their Green Marketing Guidelines (with unsubstantiated claims of degradability in their flushable cleaning wipes range), and the decision to investigate ALDI for similarly misleading claims (about the degradability of ALDI Green Action flushable wipes) should be a wake up call for the industry. Consumers and the industry watchdogs are scrutinising environmental claims.

If consumers are choosing to pay more to reduce their environmental impact then it’s our job – as manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers –  to honour that. We must all ensure our products live up to the environmental claims and offer a real environmental benefit – not just lip service that makes consumers feel good whilst inadvertently continuing to pollute the environment.

At BioPak, we only make real world environmental and sustainability claims that can be independently verified through robust and rigorous scientific process. We go to great lengths to ensure our packaging products align with the principles of a circular economy, and our products are certified compostable to Australian and international standards.

We believe that industry bodies working together can be the catalyst for the giant shift we need in order to preserve the planet.