Your Product Is NOT Eco-Friendly: None of them Are
Posted on September 27 2021
Your Product Is NOT Eco-Friendly: None of them Are
If you have ever had the pleasure of viewing a modern advertisement, then chances are you have seen a brand that uses eco-friendliness as one of its highest-held virtues. Green, biodegradable, recyclable, reusable, zero-emission, zero waste, sustainable, you get the idea. These tags like bedazzling on a jacket seek to elevate an ordinary product into something special. Why buy one of those evil plastic toothbrushes? They take seven centuries to decompose and they kill 7,000 turtles a year. But hey, don’t worry, you can buy our new cardboard and cactus-needle bio fluoride plaque chisel.
The morally fastidious and fed up new demographics have come to view eco-friendliness as a kind of counter-cultural movement, a political battle, or quasi-spiritual jihad against the old guard. A struggle against the uninformed or uncaring masses who do not see the need for constant and loudly expressed concern over climate change, deforestation, or whatever current ecological issue requires our supervision. How do these warriors fight for the cause? By shopping of course! The data shows that green sells. People love to buy green. One of the problems with this little arrangement is that nothing, no product being shipped and sold, is actually all that green.
It’s All Meaningless
I will let you in on a secret. Brands lie. A lot. Or they stretch the truth. This is especially rampant when it comes to claims of eco-friendliness. Many of the phrases and buzzwords that get tossed around in the industry are devoid of any concrete definition, meaning, or importance. Take the word "green". If you refer to your product as green, the customer is going to assume it's good for the environment, and they are doing their part by purchasing it. But green is just a color. We have come to associate it with good for the earth, but that's just an association built up by years of marketing. Anyone can call anything green, and unless held up to the light and audited, everyone will just accept it as true. The standard by which we deem something truly green does not exist. Does your blender use 0.006% less electricity than the competitor? Well, I guess it's green then!
What’s so Natural About it?
How about "all-natural?" You see that one a lot on food, clothing, gasoline, drugs, etc. It’s another one without any real meaning. Your 100% cotton shirt is all-natural because it uses strictly earth-made components? Sure, but remember that these raw fibers needed to be dipped and soaked in colorful stews of toxic chemicals. After several treatments, the resulting textile may conceptually be organic, but it’s as natural as Frankenstein’s monster. You can’t just wear raw cotton fibers as the resulting shirt would be itchy and uncomfortable. However, it’s nice to pretend we are wearing handmaid cotton shirts spun by a happy band of farmers and artisans.
Cosmetic brands like Kiehls and Tarte are guilty of claiming they offer an organic product when a quick glance at the ingredients they use proves otherwise. Making false claims like this is referred to as “green-washing”, and is especially rampant today. Be sure to review the ingredients of any product that says it is 100% natural.
Biodegradable is one of my favorite labels, as it essentially means the product can decompose. Truly something worth bragging about. Your product can miraculously follow the universal law of entropy. What the label is trying to say is that the product can break down relatively quickly after you throw it away. What most companies fail to mention is that biodegrade products can only break down quickly under certain conditions. What are these conditions? Well most often, it involves high temperatures, around 50⁰C (122⁰F). That's far hotter than most landfills. Many other things also break down if burned. Tires, car batteries, plastic bottles. Sure, some places can cleanly break down the Biodegradable garbage. How does my used tissue get from my hand to such a place? I do not know, and our infrastructure does not know either. Regular government composting facilities are not capable of handling bioplastics or most supposed biodegradable materials. Most of it ends up in a landfill, where it shall rest peacefully with the non-green, non-biodegradable collective trash heaps for years to come.
The popular slogan of "Reduce, Reuse, Regurgitate" has firmly fixed itself into our noggins. The recyclability of products is what lets us enjoy our glass bottles, tin cans, and cardboard shoes free of sin. As long as everyone follows the strict rules and regulations needed to recycle an item, all is right in the world. As we are all aware, consumers are great at doing exactly as they are told, even if it is slightly inconvenient. If, for example, a paper cup or straw was contaminated by some kind of food or beverage, then it could no longer be recycled. As long as we keep all food and beverages away from our recyclable items, then they can be cleanly disposed of. Well, it would also need to be placed in the proper receptacle, which is easy enough as long as nobody mistakes the recycling bin for the trashcan and throws food into it. If that happened, the entire contents of the recycling bin would have to be tossed in with the normal trash. Who would make such a mistake though?
You’ve Got to be Shipping Me
A truth we have to accept is that anything you buy has some negative aspect on the environment. The act of shipping anything dumps a few metric tons of chemicals, toxins, and miscellaneous waste into the world. Air shipping? Burning jet fuel and exhaust spew carbon and gas into the air. Shipping through boats? Same thing but it's dumped into the ocean. Trucks and tractor-trailers? Slightly fewer carbon emissions than planes or boats, but since trucks make up the bulk of our shipping trips, the huffing brigade spews out around 4.5 gigatons of CO2. If you want your recycled cardboard toothbrush in two days, then you’re going to have to tolerate a little air pollution.
I know the solution; we can all switch to electricity. Replace every truck and tractor-trailer on the road with a hybrid or battery-powered Tesla truck. This would surely save our crumbling souls. Of course, for this change to have any effect at all, our entire power grid would need replacing. Since the electrical grids on almost every spot on Earth are powered by fossil fuels. While we are at it, the batteries used to make these eco trucks could also be greener. Currently, making one of the batteries kicks out around 15-65% more waste than your standard combustion engine assembly. Until either of those factors are changed, electric trucking would from an ecological standpoint, be insignificant.
So What Do We Do then?
Well, you could become a farmer, live off the land, grow your food and raise cattle. Sure, cows and farm irrigation pumps methane into the air and toxins into the water, but it's cleaner than being a consumer, right?
The truth is we are far too stuck in the system to make any substantial changes on our own. Widespread, global changes are needed to improve the system. The most you can do is think twice before you accept a brand's claim of eco-friendless. If you find yourself running your own business, know that green labels are loose and without meaning. So feel free to use them at your leisure, most consumers will simply accept them without scrutiny. Is that morally sound? No, not really, but what business is? I am kidding of course. Try your best to inform your customers on how they can cleanly use and recycle your product. It may be a drop in the bucket, but the ocean is just a multitude of drops. There’s some trash mixed in too, but let’s ignore that. For more information on environmentalist myths, check out this blog on why paper straws suck.
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