Plastics New Zealand’s CEO Rachel Barker has called for a crackdown on a practice called ‘greenwashing’ – where manufacturers claim their products are renewable or plastic free when they aren’t.
“There is a high level of greenwash around packaging in New Zealand, such as claims of ‘I’m not plastic’ on bags and bottles which are still plastic, even when they’re compostable or made from plants. Other items are advertised as ‘renewable’ when they include oil-based plastics. With the public increasingly concerned about making sustainable shopping purchases, this kind of greenwashing needs to stop.”
Ms Barker says that the definition of what is or isn’t a plastic is very clear.
“Plastic is any material that’s made from very long molecule chains called ‘polymers’ that can be formed into a shape and set. They can be made from plants like corn or sugar-cane as well as fossil-fuels. Plastics that are compostable are still plastic.”
WasteMINZ believe the key to stopping the greenwash is by providing clear guidance for consumers and product suppliers in New Zealand. Chris Purchas, chair of the WasteMINZ Organic Materials sector group, notes that:
“A lot of these materials are quite new and there hasn’t been a lot of guidance around advertising. Companies may accidentally mislead their customers and don’t realise their claims fall foul of the Fair Trading Act.”
WasteMINZ and Plastics NZ have set out to change this and have created the Guide to Advertising the Plastics Used in Compostable Products and Packaging. This was developed in collaboration with scientists, composting specialists and compostable packaging manufacturers. It answers some important questions and helps clear up the confusion for both companies and consumers.
The guide also tackles the myth that all plant-based plastics (bioplastics) are compostable. Rachel Barker points out,
“There is confusion around what is and isn’t compostable. Just because packaging is made from plants doesn’t automatically mean it’s compostable. Conversely packaging made using fossil fuels, isn’t automatically non-compostable.
Being compostable also doesn’t necessarily mean the item is made from renewable materials. It means the item will be converted to compost under the right conditions and the only way to definitively know is through a proper verification process. That’s why composting certification is so important.”
WasteMINZ and Plastics NZ encourage producers and brands to upskill so they can avoid landing in trouble with the Commerce Commission. The guideline can be downloaded here.
A list of the most common bioplastics on the market at the moment and whether they are plant-based or oil-based and whether they can be recycled or composted can be found here.