Have you been Greenwashed?

Bio –

  1. A biography of someone

  2. Relating to life

These are the first definitions that pop up upon tapping ‘bio’ into Google.

Considering the second definition, it is no wonder that ‘bio’ has come to be the feature of so many campaigns trying to angle their product as sustainable.

If you’re a coffee slurper that justifies your daily take-away purchase because it’s handed to you in a ‘biocup’ then you’ve been greenwashed.

Bioplastics are made from plant starches, oils and celluloses, which technically allows them to breakdown more quickly than petroleum based plastics. But if they were to actually biodegrade, as the name would suggest, a process is required—one that depends on oxygen, dirt and microorganisms.

These are crucial factors that are severely lacking in most landfill sites where 90% of these products end up. The tight packed conditions of landfills mean that air-flow is limited and consequently biodegradation occurs only very slowly.

These materials are also commonly promoted as being compostable, which suggests they undergo a process that results in an end product—compost—being produced. Needless to say, very few landfill sites have compostable facilities and very few cafés offer their own compost service, overall making the compostable status rather pointless.

Although bioplastics aren't made up with petroleum, they're still pretty thirsty for it. The journey for that biocup to slip into your hand or that bioplate to land in your lap requires huge amounts of energy to irrigate crops, to power farm machinery and to produce fertilizers, all-in-all petroluem heavy processes.

Not to mention the energy expended on transportation costs. This is not just considering the shipment of bioplastics from countries like Taiwan where they are produced, but also the energy and petrol costs of those procured upon disposing of them.

Most street bins are filled with take-away food packaging that do not crush easily and consequently fill bins quickly. Regular waste collection services are dispatched to empty these bins and transport their contents to waste collection facilities where they are then dumped on top of millions of other bioplastics, suffocating them from the very element they require to do their job.

With bioplastics costing twice the price as normal take-away containers, but ultimately doing the same thing, it’s an unfortunate reminder of how commerce yet again trumps the environment.

Take-away is a luxury we have grown to depend on in this fast paced world, where not even a five-minute break to enjoy a coffee in a ceramic cup can be forsaken. And yes, a whole lot of energy and water is required to produce that same ceramic cup, but the difference is, it doesn’t end up in the bin after touching one set of hands.

No matter how much producers redesign and market goods to be “environmentally friendly”, it comes down to us, the consumer to look at what we are purchasing and ask the question, “where will this go next?”.

Anna Jane Linke