Don't Be Fooled 2000
2000 Don't Be Fooled Awards:
1. Pacific Gas & Electric
2. Coca-Cola Company
3. Nuclear Energy Institute
5. Mobil Oil Company
9. BP Amoco
10. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines
Tips for Consumers
The author would like to thank Patsy Meyer, Chris Wood, Andy MacDonald and the Ecopledge.com organizers, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), Corporate Watch, Southeast Forest Project, Federal Trade Commission, Public Information Network, Nuclear Information Resource Service and Greenpeace for their help in the production and distribution of this report.
Earth Day 2000 keeps the original spirit of Earth Day alive by giving individuals the resources they need to make the vision of a cleaner, healthier planet for the next century a reality. We provide concrete information to individual consumers, helping them make the best choices in their personal life that promote the health of the planet.
To order a hard copy of the report contact:
Earth Day 2000
11965 Venice Boulevard, Suite 408
Los Angeles, CA 90066
This report announces the recipients of the 1999 Don't Be Fooled Awards. Americans consumers are increasingly looking for products from companies that are environmentally responsible, but find it difficult to sort through the numerous claims corporations make in their advertisements and product labels. Earth Day 2000 releases this report annually to call attention to the past year's worst greenwashers, corporations that have made misleading or false claims about the environmental benefits of their products and industries. "Don't Be Fooled" describes companies' greenwashing attempts as well as the truth behind the misleading claims.
About Earth Day 2000
Earth Day 2000 keeps the original spirit of Earth Day alive, giving individuals the resources they need to make the vision of a cleaner, healthier planet for the next century a reality. We provide concrete information to individuals, helping them the best choices in their personal life that promote the health of the planet. Earth Day 2000 was formed in 1991 to help consumers live out the commitments they made to protect the environment on Earth Day 1990. Earth Day 2000 does this in several ways:
The Earth Day 2000 Newsletter is an easy-to-read guide designed to help consumers live their lifestyles to reflect their commitment to a healthier planet. The newsletter is produced five times per year and is full of simple tips on a wide variety of issues from recycling to ozone depletion, from ecotourism to energy efficiency. The newsletter features articles on prominent figures in the green consumer movement and sorts out the "green" from the greenwashing.
Every April, Earth Day 2000 issues its Countdown 2000 report, our annual check-up on the health of our planet. Proclaimed on Earth Day 1990, we help keep the goals for the green decade alive by updating the public on the progress we have made on a variety of pressing environmental problems, including global warming, solid waste and toxic pollution.
The Don't Be Fooled report is a public education component of Earth Day 2000's Truth in Environmental Advertising Campaign. Earth Day 2000 also campaigns for tougher environmental consumer laws and more accurate labeling and advertising. Earth Day 2000, with U.S. PIRG, Ozone Action, and the Environmental Law Foundation, has successfully settled two lawsuits against Sanyo and Maytag for failing to disclose to consumers that their refrigerators, freezers and coolers contained ozone-depleting chemicals.
It will take more than one day of action to turn our society toward a sustainable future. We can achieve amazing results if we join together to make change by providing consumers with information they can use to make everyday environmental choices in the marketplace. On Earth Day 1990, people joined together to launch the Environmental Decade, ten years of commitment to changing our society, protecting the earth and putting our long-term health first. Earth Day 2000 is working to achieve that goal, to ensure that on the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2000, we can look at 10 years of solid environmental progress.
As defined by the 10th edition Concise Oxford English Dictionary:
greenwash: (n) Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n). Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash.
The History of Greenwashing
Although it is difficult to pinpoint its origins, the level of greenwashing in advertising significantly increased after Earth Day 1990. Millions of individuals joined together to protest the degradation of the planet on Earth Day 1990 and corporations were forced to realize the level to which consumers took environmental concerns into account when making purchases.
Many companies began making misleading claims about their products to capitalize on consumers' desire to preserve the planet by buying green products. A 1999 Cone/Roper Survey found that Americans are more likely to conduct business with companies supporting strong causes such as environmental protection. Eighty-three percent of respondents say they have a more positive image of a company supporting a cause they care about, and 61 percent of respondents believe cause-related marketing should be a standard business practice.
From hair spray to household cleaners, consumers have been fooled by environmental product claims advertised by corporations. The problem is aggravated because the shoppers cannot confirm whether a product is truly ozone-friendly or biodegradable in the same way they can check whether a laundry detergent removes stains better or batteries last longer.
Misleading claims on product packaging only scratch the surface. Corporations with less than perfect records have tried to portray themselves in a green manner by claiming to help the earth in various print, radio and television advertisements. Past tactics include Chevron ads showing bear cubs to imply that its products are safe or friendly to the environment and wildlife. Proctor and Gamble has distributed educational materials designed to educate students about solid waste with a clear bias favoring its products. Greenwashing is likely to continue far into the future, as evidenced by the inclusion of the term in the 10th edition Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Earth Day 2000 is doing its part to empower consumers to outsmart greenwashers.
The Campaign for Truth in Environmental Advertising
Historically, there have been a number of attempts to put an end to greenwashing. One of the first steps was taken in November 1990 when a task force of 10 state attorney generals released "The Green Report." The report reviewed the controversies around the labels of "degradable," "recyclable," and "recycled." The task force recognized the growth in environmental claims made it difficult for consumers to sort legitimate claims from greenwashing. The Green Report established a need for federal standards to guide environmental advertising and recommended specific standards to incorporate into legislation regarding the validity of environmental claims.
These efforts directly resulted in further attempts to regulate misleading claims about the environmental consequences of products. First, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey sponsored a bill called the Environmental Marketing Claims Act in the 1991-2 congressional session. Unfortunately, the bill failed to move through Congress and has not yet been reintroduced.
Second, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a series of guidelines about environmental product claims for businesses in June 1992. Known as the "Green Guides," the FTC worked to refine the guidelines, which were completed in 1998. (These can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm.) Although these guidelines define common terms used in environmental marketing claims, the FTC claims that, "the guidelines are not, themselves, legally enforceable, but are administrative guidelines for present FTC laws on overall marketing claims." The FTC will contact corporations that do not adhere to the guidelines, but the FTC allows products to remain on the shelf for months until the company depletes its existing "misleading" packaging supply. Even under investigation, companies continue to profit off of consumers who believe they are buying green products. Recently, the FTC confirmed that an alliance was falsely advertising the environmental benefits of nuclear energy, but no action was taken as the FTC believed that the alliance might not fall under its jurisdiction. The incident confirms the need for legal definitions to effectively halt greenwashing offenses.
There is good news, however. One of the first green labeling statutes, which gives strict legal definitions to terms like "recycled," became law in California in 1990. The law was challenged by the Association of National Advertisers, which includes companies like Proctor and Gamble. The association claimed the green label statute was unconstitutional because it infringed on the right to free speech. They lost the case and the statute was further upheld in federal court in 1995.
However, current guidelines are far less strict on corporations who create false images of themselves as environmentally friendly, such as many of the enormous oil, chemical and paper companies. These companies have deep financial resources to take out full-page color advertisements in the most popular magazines to portray themselves as environmentally responsible although the record shows them as major contributors to environmental degradation or opponents to sensible environmental reform.
The first steps have been taken, but corporations need to be held legally accountable for their actions. It is time to stop placing the burden on consumers to distinguish between green rhetoric and green responsibility.
And The 2000 Don't Be Fooled Awards go to·
Recently, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has put out a slew of artsy magazine ads showing black and white photographs of power transformers next to towering redwood trees with the caption, "Is there room enough for both of them to grow?" Another shows tire tracks next to bird tracks with the caption, "Who has the right of way?" PG&E discusses how they satisfy growing energy needs through "technology that respects Mother Nature."
Perhaps the ads are trying to buffer the reaction to the real story, now famous by the movie, "Erin Brockovich," starring Julia Roberts. The movie tells how PG&E used a chemical called chromium VI in water towers at its plants in California for years to combat corrosion. The chromium, a known human carcinogen, seeped into and contaminated the groundwater in small California towns. The groundwater in the wells was used for everyday activities such as drinking and bathing. As a result, hundreds suffered from nosebleeds and many of their families and neighbors succumb to unusually high rates of cancer. PG&E won't discuss the disaster, but records show that wells held water with 17.5 ppm chromium compared to an allowable drinking standard of .10 ppm. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (415) 973-7000 or visit its website at www.pgecorp.com.
For the past three years, Coca-Cola has helped sponsor a national America Recycles Day on November 15th that urges Americans to pledge to buy recycled. Millions of Americans participate in hopes of winning a dream "green" home or other environmentally friendly prizes. On behalf of the America Recycles Day sponsors and organizers, local politicians in towns across the country have signed proclamations declaring November 15th as America Recycles Day. Coca-Cola has not, however, lived up to its own hype by using recycled materials in all of its soft drink containers.
In 1990, Coke announced a program to use recycled content in its plastic soda bottles. The company applied to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a new bottle that would contain 25% recycled material. The FDA approved the technology that Coke uses to sell recycled plastic bottles abroad in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. A former Coke CEO stated that "more than half of all soft drink cans are recycled and we want to reach and exceed that level with plastic packaging." The Coca-Cola Company claimed that the new package met the company's standards for consumer safety and environmental impact and that consumer acceptance of the recycled plastic bottles exceeded expectations.
However, in 1994, Coke quietly dropped the program, most likely because the company was no longer threatened by national bottle bill legislation. Recycling rates for plastic soda bottles plummeted. Coke claims the program was not "economically sustainable." The company can afford to use more than 70% recycled material in its aluminum cans and more than 40% recycled content in its glass bottles. It may be time for Coke to consider taking its own advice and buy recycled to lessen its impact on the environment and keep millions of its plastic bottles from entering landfills and being littered every year. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (800) 438-2653 or visit its website at www.coca-cola.com.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is a coalition funded by its 42 member American nuclear utility companies whose purpose is to promote nuclear energy, especially in recently deregulated areas. A coalition of groups including the Better Business Bureau and the citizen watchdog group, Public Citizen, filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in June 1999 regarding NEI's advertisements that tout nuclear energy as "environmentally clean." Specifically, the ads assert that nuclear plants are the largest energy source that produces no greenhouse gas emissions and therefore, they help protect the environment. The ads also state that nuclear plants produce power without burning materials, thus no greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air.
Nuclear industry documents do not support NEI's claims. About 10 metric tons of carbon, a leading greenhouse gas, are emitted annually to produce enough fuel for just one nuclear plant. Some of the other environmentally harmful effects of nuclear power include highly irradiated nuclear waste, species destruction and thermal water emissions. Nuclear waste also poses unique storage problems for the country since it remains toxic for 240,000 years and radioactive for more than a million years. Federal officials have not been able to agree on a permanent storage site for 85,000 metric tons of waste that be stored at temporary on-site facilities. The persistent radioactivity of the waste is equivalent to 2.3 million Hiroshima bombs dangerous enough to cause enormous destruction.
The FTC recently concluded that the NEI is guilty of falsely implying that nuclear energy is "environmentally clean" and supplies electricity "without polluting" the environment. However, the agency will not take further action because its director feels the FTC may lack the jurisdiction needed to initiate a formal proceeding. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (202) 739-8000 or visit its website at www.nei.org.
Weyerhaeuser is the world's largest private owner of timber, the world's largest producer of lumber and a major importer of tropical wood. From timber to cardboard and paper packaging, Weyerhaeuser has been in the business of chopping down trees and forests for more than 100 years. As part of an ad campaign that includes television, radio and print ads, the corporation calls their business principles environmentally sound for "replacing natural resources" by planting 40 million seedlings in the past year for future harvest. It has heavily publicized its tree farms as so that they we will "never run out of trees." Yet, the company does not expand upon how many of those 40 million seedlings make it to maturity or how many of those tree farms are replacing our disappearing old-growth forests.
These ads can be seen on the company's website next to Weyerhaeuser's shabby defense of its practice of clearcutting trees. The company has clearcut 4 million acres since 1990. The site explains that clearcutting is continued for purposes of sustainability and biology. Weyerhaeuser expects the consumer to believe that clearcutting is good because it exposes trees to direct sunlight needed to grow. Read further to get the true story. Clearcutting brings in more money by producing twice the wood volume as an "unmanaged" lot of the same size. To Weyerhaeuser, it's not an environmental matter, but rather an economic one. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (253) 924-2345 or visit its website at www.weyerhaeuser.com.
Click here to see example of Weyerhaeuser ad.
Though the company has recently merged with Exxon, Mobil was one of the first notorious greenwashers. In 1989, the company marketed its Hefty trash bags as degradable and used pictures of plush, green trees on the packaging. Its real intentions leaked when a Mobil spokesperson slipped that, "degradability is just a marketing tool." The FTC sued and Mobil was forced to change product packaging and admit Hefty bags are not truly degradable.
Mobil receives an award this year for its practice of running weekly commentaries on the editorial page of the New York Times. One is titled "Helping Earth breathe easier" while another is headlined "When special car is called for." The ads target high power decision-makers. They highlight the company's various environmental policies such as financial support for environmental groups that are planting trees to absorb the excess carbon dioxide building in the atmosphere to singing the praises of diesel fuel. Mobil does not mention what progress it is taking to tackle global warming by altering its oil drilling and exploration practices - because it has not made any significant changes to the real root of the problem.
While the consumer is led to believe the company is taking strides to protect the environment, seasoned environmentalists note the purpose of the ads is to divert attention from the contribution its fossil fuels make to global warming. According to EPA data, Mobil was responsible for the release and transfer of 10.5 million pounds of toxics and 231 million pounds of waste in the US in 1997. Seven million pounds of toxics were spewed directly into our air and almost half of these toxics were emitted from a single Mobil refinery in Texas. Mobil also remains a steadfast member of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry-funded group that has given more than $63 million to fight sensible global warming policies in Congress. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (800) 243-9966 or visit its website at www.mobil.com.
One of the hottest environmental issues of the past year has been genetically engineered food and Monsanto has remained at the forefront by advocating the environmental advantages of GE foods. Monsanto's website claims genetically engineered foods "benefit the environment in several ways. Crops can be produced with fewer pesticides while increasing a crop's own ability to fight pests and diseases. These new crops encourage farming techniques that preserve precious topsoil, reduce soil erosion and runoff into streams and rivers, and even reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These farming techniques will also provide increases in food production with our limited farmlands."
Monsanto is not telling consumers the entire story. In May 1999, Cornell University researchers published a study in Nature that found the gene-altering toxin, now in more than 25% of the entire U.S. corn crop, kills butterfly larvae in nearby plants that ingest GE corn pollen. Other researchers have actually found Monsanto's GE soybeans produce lower yields than possible if farmers planted comparable but non-engineered varieties under most conditions. In December 1999, another study in Nature shows toxins derived from GE corn remain active in soil for months at a time and there may be a risk that it could affect humans. Careful study of genetic engineering takes years. Some scientists fear that the rapid rise in popularity of GE foods in the US took place before the long-term ecological risks of such crops could be ascertained. Monsanto is proclaiming the safety of GE foods for the protection of its pocketbook, not the environment. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (314) 694-1000 or visit its website at www.monsanto.com.
People Do can be criticized on a number of levels. Chevron is spending much more on promoting its image through these projects than it does on the actual projects. Producing a 30 second advertisement may cost $200,000, while the El Segundo butterfly program costs the company only $5,000 a year. Production costs do not account for the millions Chevron spends to buy magazine space and TV airtime. The ads are misleading by creating the image that the People Do projects are voluntary when state and local laws mandate many of the projects. Chevron is essentially applauding itself for following the rules. Apparently, following the rules is not Chevron's forte when how long it has paid to pollute. Chevron is linked to 49 Superfund sites, more than any other oil corporation, according to EPA data. Since the 1970s, it has been fined millions of dollars for plant explosions, unsafe work environments, illegal air pollution, improper hazardous waste disposal and needlessly exposing minority neighborhoods to dangerous chemicals and waste. In March 1997, Chevron was hit with a $1.2 million fine for operating off the California coast without required pollution prevention features. The fine was one of the largest to be levied on any oil company for failing to meet required standards since 1970 when Chevron was fined for a similar offense. People do care about the environment, Chevron's history shows it does not. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (415) 894-7700 or visit its website at www.chevron.com.
Chevron's "People Do" advertisements remain a textbook example of successful greenwashing. Launched in 1985, the campaign consists of advertisements featuring ads publicizing a butterfly "preserve" at the infamous El Segundo refinery in California to artificial reefs of gas tanks in the Gulf of Mexico. The People Do ads reflect a Chevron decision to appeal to the environmentally conscious consumer. Focusing on a potentially hostile audience was considered a risky move, but it paid off enormously. Polls Chevron conducted in California two years after the start of "People Do" show that it was the oil corporation people trusted most to protect the environment. Among those who saw the commercials, Chevron sales increased by 10 percent, while among a target audience of those considered environmentally concerned, sales jumped by 22 percent.
People Do can be criticized on a number of levels. Chevron is spending much more on promoting its image through these projects than it does on the actual projects. Producing a 30 second advertisement may cost $200,000, while the El Segundo butterfly program costs the company only $5,000 a year. Production costs do not account for the millions Chevron spends to buy magazine space and TV airtime. The ads are misleading by creating the image that the People Do projects are voluntary when state and local laws mandate many of the projects. Chevron is essentially applauding itself for following the rules.
Apparently, following the rules is not Chevron's forte when how long it has paid to pollute. Chevron is linked to 49 Superfund sites, more than any other oil corporation, according to EPA data. Since the 1970s, it has been fined millions of dollars for plant explosions, unsafe work environments, illegal air pollution, improper hazardous waste disposal and needlessly exposing minority neighborhoods to dangerous chemicals and waste. In March 1997, Chevron was hit with a $1.2 million fine for operating off the California coast without required pollution prevention features. The fine was one of the largest to be levied on any oil company for failing to meet required standards since 1970 when Chevron was fined for a similar offense. People do care about the environment, Chevron's history shows it does not. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (415) 894-7700 or visit its website at www.chevron.com.
DuPont's newest advertising campaign starts with green mountaintops accompanied by the phrase, "To Do List For the Planet." It then shows different tasks with corresponding photographs including, "Turn ocean water into drinking water" and "Make food grow where food can't grow." With the tagline, "The miracles of science," DuPont appears to be working to improve environmental conditions.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As the world's largest chemical company, DuPont is one of the country's top emitter of toxins releasing near 1 million pounds per day, according to EPA data. DuPont remains the world's largest producer of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and continues to sell leaded gasoline overseas. DuPont's record as a polluter has even linked the company with harming public health in some instances. As the operator of the government's Savannah River nuclear weapons complex, it polluted water sources for almost 40 years and has been connected to elevated levels of leukemia and lung cancer among other diseases. DuPont needs to understand that consumers do not necessarily welcome innovation at the price of the environment. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (800) 441-7515 or visit its website at www.dupont.com.
Click here to see DuPont ad.
Of all the oil giants, BP Amoco, a conglomerate of British Petroleum and Amoco looking to expand to include ARCO, has perhaps most carefully crafted its image to appear concerned about the environment. The company created much fanfare around its entrance into the world of renewable energy sources. On March 7th, 1999, BP Amoco bought Maryland-based Solarex, making it the largest solar company in the world. On March 13th, CEO Browne announced it's "Plug in the Sun" program in which BP Amoco will install solar panels in 200 gas stations around the world. The tagline for the program is, "We can fill you up by sunshine."
That's not the point. While these actions are good for the environment, the bottom line is that the company is diverting attention from the real consequences of its fossil fuel business. BP Amoco is still filling you up with gasoline, a leading cause of global warming. Its financial records show BP Amoco spent almost 600 times more to buy ARCO, another oil company, than it spent to purchase Solarex, the solar energy company.
BP Amoco's main role in contributing to climate change is through the burning of the oil and gas it produces. In fact, BP Amoco oil and gas accounts for about 2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. While developing solar energy is important, by no means is BP Amoco planning a long-term transition to renewable resources. For every $10,000 BP Amoco spent on oil exploration and development, $16 was spent on solar energy. BP Amoco plans to spend $5 billion on oil exploration and development in Alaska alone over the next five years. The corporation is lobbying to drill for oil specifically in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last pristine wilderness areas in Alaska that serves as a home to threatened wildlife species and indigenous people. It is estimated that the area's oil supplies would last just six months. Clearly, BP Amoco's bottom dollar tells more about its objectives than its claims of environmental concern. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (312) 856-6111 or visit its website at www.bpamoco.com.
Stepping into any given travel agency, the consumer is hit with a barrage of posters and pamphlets featuring beautiful from the crisp, white Alaskan glaciers to the clear, blue, sparkling Caribbean seas. Many of these scenes can be found in cruise line brochures and Royal Caribbean is no exception. Its television ads show ships making their way around the oceans of the world in the middle of breathtakingly beautiful sunsets. The Royal Caribbean website boasts of its strong environmental policies and principles called "Save the Waves" stating that "nothing gets dumped overboard."
Royal Caribbean's projected environmental image and its environmental record remain fathoms apart from one another. According to Attorney General Janet Reno, "Royal Caribbean used our nation's waters as its dumping ground, even as it promoted itself as an environmentally 'green' company. In 1999, Royal Caribbean pled guilty to 21 felony counts and agreed to pay $18 million for dumping waste oil and hazardous chemicals into U.S. waters rather than properly disposing of it at port. Royal Caribbean admitted further lying to the Coast Guard about its activities by falsifying logbooks and disposing of bypass pipes used in dumping the waste and oil. To contact the company with questions or concerns, call (305) 539-6000 or visit its website at www.royalcaribbean.com.
The Federal Trade Commission, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, has developed guidelines for consumers to ensure that environmental marketing claims are not misleading. Earth Day 2000 encourages consumers to remember these helpful hints when making everyday purchases. Here are their tips to help you sort through environmental claims:
When you evaluate environmental claims in advertising and on product labels, look for specific information. Determine whether the claims apply to the product, the packaging, or both.
If a label says "recycled," check how much of the product or package is recycled. Unless the product or package contains 100 percent recycled materials, the label must specify how much is recycled.
Increasingly, labels on "recycled" products tell where the recycled material comes from. "Post-consumer" material comes from previously used business or consumer products, such as newspapers, shipping cartons, plastic bottles, glass containers, and aluminum cans. "Pre-consumer" material is basically manufacturing waste. For example, an envelope manufacturer might recycle the clippings left over when envelopes are cut from paper. These clippings could be made into other paper products instead of being thrown away.
"Recycled" products are made from items recovered or separated from the "waste stream" that are melted down or ground up into raw materials and then used to make new products. Or they may be products that are used, rebuilt, reconditioned, or remanufactured. If a product is labeled "recycled" because it contains used, rebuilt, reconditioned, or remanufactured parts, the label must say so - unless it's obvious to the consumer.
For example, a used auto parts store may sell used auto parts that have been salvaged from other cars and label them "recycled" without any description because it's plain that they are used parts. An office copier labeled "recycled" because it was rebuilt, reconditioned or remanufactured - and then labeled recycled - must state that the recycled content came from rebuilt, reconditioned or remanufactured parts. That's because it may not be obvious that it contains used parts.
Recyclable claims on labels and advertising mean that the manufacturer or seller of the products has proof that the products can be collected and used again or made into useful products. Some companies simply may say "Please Recycle" on their products. Such claims will be relevant to you only if these products are collected for recycling in your community, either through curbside pickup programs or drop-off programs. Contact your local recycling official for this information.
Some businesses recycle products for you. You may see a product labeled or advertised as "recyclable" and the business allows you to either return the used product to where it was purchased or send the used product to the manufacturer in a prepaid mailer. For example, some manufacturers of toner cartridges for computer printers allow consumers to return their empty cartridges to the dealer or mail them back to the manufacturer for reuse. Check to be sure that the recycling program accepts the exact kind of product or package you want to recycle before you place it in the bin.
Some products claim to be "degradable." "Biodegradable" materials, like food and leaves, break down and decompose into elements found in nature when they are exposed to air, moisture, and bacteria or other organisms. "Photodegradable" materials, usually plastics, disintegrate into smaller pieces when exposed to enough sunlight.
Either way, degradation of any material occurs very slowly in landfills, where most garbage is taken. This is because the law requires that modern landfills be designed to keep sunlight, air and moisture out of the landfill. This helps prevent pollutants from the garbage from entering the air and drinking water, but slows decomposition. Even materials like paper and food may take decades to decompose in a landfill.
Cleaning products, like detergents and shampoos, often display "biodegradable" claims. Most of these products degrade in wastewater systems, causing no harm to the environment.
In contrast to landfills, "composting" takes advantage of degradability. Composting turns degradable materials into useable compost - humus-like material that enriches the soil and returns nutrients to the earth. Some people compost yard trimmings and food scraps in their backyards. Many communities collect leaves, grass, and other yard trimmings for composting. When you see a "compostable" claim on a product or package, it means the manufacturer should have made sure the material can be safely composted at home. If you want to compost a product in a community facility, check that your community facility accepts the material for composting.
Vague claims may sound warm and fuzzy, but generally offer little information of value. Claims that a product or service is "environmentally friendly," "environmentally safe," or "eco-safe" or labels that contain environmental seals - say, a picture of the globe with the words "Earth Smart" around it - are unhelpful for two reasons: First, all products, packaging and services have some environmental impact, although some may have less than others. Second, these phrases alone do not provide the specific information you need to compare products, packaging, or services on their environmental merits. Look for claims that give some substance to the claim - the additional information explaining why the product is environmentally friendly or has earned a special seal.
Some products may claim that they are "CFC-free" or "ozone-friendly." But all ozone is not alike. The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is necessary to prevent the sun's harmful radiation from reaching the earth. But when ozone develops at ground level, it forms smog, which can cause people to have serious breathing problems. If a company claims that its products are "ozone friendly" or "ozone safe," it should have reason to believe that the products do not harm the atmosphere - either the upper ozone layer or the air at the ground level.
Chlorofluorocarbons - CFCs - are chemical substances that can deplete the earth's protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. In 1978, CFCs were banned for use as propellants in nearly all consumer aerosol products. They are gradually being phased out in all products and manufacturing processes.
If a product doesn't contain any CFCs, it doesn't necessarily mean it is safe for the entire atmosphere. Substances called volatile organic compounds - VOCs - also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog. Alcohols, butane, propane and isobutane are common VOCs. How common are these VOCs? Emissions from cars and factories are the major source of VOC releases to the environment, but household cleaning products, floor polishes, charcoal lighter fluid, windshield wiper fluid, and hair styling spray, gel or mousse, whether in aerosol cans or spray pumps, also may contain these substances and contribute to smog problems.
Some products and packages state that they use less material than former or competing products or packaging. To be meaningful, such claims should say exactly what's been reduced, by how much, and compared to what. For example, a claim like "20 percent less waste than our previous package" gives you more information than "20 percent less waste."
Certain symbols placed on consumer products tell you whether a product or package is recyclable (depending on your community program) or that the product or package is made from recycled materials.
Many products display this "universal" recycling symbol, often called the three-chasing-arrows symbol. Some companies use it to mean that the product or package is made of recycled materials; others use it to mean that the product or package is recyclable. Since some communities don't accept for recycling every product or package that bears the symbol, it's a good idea to check with your local recycling or solid waste officials if you are unsure about appropriate disposal.
Manufacturers use this symbol, a code developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry, to indicate the type of plastic from which a particular product is made. SPI code numbers range from 1 to 7. Bottles or jugs labeled with numbers 1 and 2, such as soda bottles, detergent, shampoo, and milk jugs, are the most likely to be accepted for recycling. One caveat: Not all communities collect and recycle containers with the same codes, so it's a good idea to check with your recycling and solid waste officials for information on the codes that are accepted for recycling in your area.
To find out more information on consumers are doing to combat greenwashing, check out the Earth Day 2000 website at www.earth-day2000.org or call 877-EARTH-46.
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