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Should Brands Stop Claiming Their Packaging is “Sustainable”?

Imagine you’re at the supermarket, and you have to get some laundry detergent.

There’s loads of choice, but you can’t seem to find the brand you usually get. So, you scan around the shelves for an alternative.

All of the products are in plastic containers (usually made of HDPE, by the way), all selling how fresh they smell, or how white they’ll get your undies and bed linens, or how concentrated the liquid is, blah, blah, blah… But one package and label really catches your attention. It screams at you –

“I’m a plant-based, biodegradable bottle!”

You pick it up, unscrew the cap, and give the product inside a sniff – ooh, that’s nice. It reminds you of a holiday you went on once, for some reason. You continue to read the label:

“Bottle made from 100% plant-based compostable plastic”

You’re sold. It’s good for the environment. You can chuck this bottle in the bin, or even on your compost heap, and it’ll just rot away like an apple core, or a lettuce stump.


Wrong. This bottle will never rot away, or turn into compost at home, or be “good for the planet”. So-called “bioplastics” are only compostable at an industrial composting facility. Have you ever seen one of those, or taken your rubbish there? There are hardly any here in the UK, and even those are privately owned.

In most cases, bioplastics just end up in landfill. And in a landfill, they take up to 1,000 years to break down into microplastics, just like any other plastic product. Worse still, people are led to believe it’s more acceptable to litter these items, because they’re “natural” and plant-based. People think it’ll just rot away.

And worst of all – they can’t be recycled. Bioplastics are single-use in the most extreme way. They’re even more resource, water, and carbon intensive to make. But you bought it, because you thought you were making a good, environmentally sound choice. You were led to believe that this was a natural, world-improving choice; that you were doing a good thing by buying it. You were scammed.

This is greenwashing.


Close up shot of a dry leaf being burned


Greenwashing; when a company tries to make people believe that they are environmentally friendly, but they are not

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) knows that; “Consumers are increasingly demanding products and services which minimise harm to, or have a positive effect on, the environment. As a result, there has been a proliferation of products, services and businesses which claim to meet that demand.”

And they also know about greenwashing – which is why the government has to regulate the claims that can be made on packaging.

But sneaky marketing and branding can still be found on packaging everywhere – using words like “natural” or “green”, or by showing pictures of plants and trees. The wording and imagery makes the product seem good for the environment, even if it’s not. It’s a way of tricking people into thinking they are doing something good by buying their stuff, while making zero claims about how that would happen.

Most of the time, companies try to do this by packaging their products in paper, card, and glass – which are often touted as “green”. But these materials have proven to be harmful in less apparent ways:

Read more – Is Cardboard Really Better For The Environment Than Plastic?

Sensitivity to greenwashing is growing. Over a third (38%) of consumers do not trust companies to be honest about their environmental impact – this rises to 55% of the “Gen Z” demographic, who don’t believe in sustainability claims at all.

Maybe it’s time for brands to stop doing this, and instead be open, honest, and transparent about the impact of their products – and their packaging. Consumers can then make real choices and decisions, and companies won’t ruin the brand relationship with them by lying.

And one area that this needs to happen in most is education on plastic packaging.

If customers hate plastic packaging, why do companies keep using it?

Because they have no choice.

If consumers want fresh, containment-free food at a lower cost – plastic is the only material that can achieve those goals. If they want products to create fewer carbon emissions, then plastic is the lightest, strongest solution for packaging.

So, as a plastic packaging company, we must think the plastic-free movement is bad news, right? Actually, we think it’s brilliant. To be more aware of how and why we use plastic helps us to respect our material that much more. 

We need plastic, but we don’t need to waste it. End-of-life plastics aren’t really end-of-life – they still contain energy, or mechanical properties useful in construction and product manufacturing.

The truth is, we’ve squandered the gift of plastic for so long, that it has become increasingly less valuable. We, as a society, have no respect for it. We have made it a villain.

Why can’t we work together to make plastic the hero again? If we recycle – REALLY recycle – and commit to giving spent plastic a final form that can last for decades? Then we’ll be half way there.

But for now, maybe just be wary of packaging promises that seem too good to be true. Because most of the time, you’re being sold a lie.

Learn how to reduce the impact of your polythene packaging

Our friendly, knowledgeable packaging experts at NPF Packaging are here to help, with solutions like recycled polythene packaging – exempt from PPT, and better overall for the environment.

We’ll help you find a packaging solution that lets you continue to operate as a business, with a reduced environmental footprint. Send us a message, or call us on 01773 820415, to tell us what you need.