Spending Green for a Green Planet: The Dos and Don’ts of Eco-Friendly Products

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By Consumers Union on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

by guest blogger Caitlin Watkins

Do you suffer from “green fatigue?” It’s not exactly seasickness, but it may be a similar feeling when you realize an eco- friendly product you just bought was overpriced, not actually green, or just plain ineffective. In recent years, the number of products labeled  “green” or “environmentally friendly” has increased due to consumer demand. However, not all of these products live up to the “green” claims made about them. This concept is called “greenwashing.”

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) acted on complaints of greenwashing in order to stop misleading environmental claims in common consumer products. This is great news for consumers, who undoubtedly hope to protect the planet when purchasing products that carry eco-friendly labels.

Often, companies do not have enough evidence to support their green marketing claims, boasting that they sell biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable products, when in fact, they do not. For example, ECM Biofilms, Inc. , which manufactures additives that they stated make plastic products biodegradable, claimed that their products should biodegrade within 9 months to five years. The FTC, in its action against ECM Biolfilms, indicated that there was not enough evidence for the company to make this claim.

The FTC is working to counteract false and deceptive marketing claims about green products. Companies that use the following terms must must have substantial evidence that proves  the product meets the following requirements:

  • Biodegradable:

The product must completely break down within a year, even without access to sunlight, air, or moisture.

  • Compostable:

The product must be easily compostable in a home-scale compost pile.

  • Recyclable:

The product can only be labelled recyclable if 100% of its contents can be completely recycled.

The FTC’s green guides are a great resource for understanding what really makes a product green. Here are some tips for choosing the most reliable and reputable eco-products:

  • Look for specific statements on the label about environmental impact. Avoid vague labels or research what they mean before making a purchase.

  • Determine whether the label applies to the packaging, the product, or both.

  • Look out for fake third-party verification. Visit Consumer Reports eco-labeling website to find reliable environmental labels.

  • Check out the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) web portal, which is designed to help consumers understand the increasingly complex world of green products. By searching for specific products, you can understand eco-labeling EPA programs like Energy Star that independently certify green consumer products.

Have you been deceived by green marketing claims? Tell us about it here.

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