With trendsetters singing the hallelujahs of eco-alternative products, many companies produced their pro-earth answers, stuffing the market with the ubiquitous green leaf label. But how can a consumer know if the product actually does no harm? First, research as much as possible to know what’s behind the label. Don’t get “greenwashed”—the frightfully easy practice of labeling products “green,” when in actuality, they fall short of EPA standards. For example, the organic foods market often greenwashes the public, and some products are only organic in strictest sense of the word. Try to avoid these five products that contribute to the greenwashing scheme by falling short of their green claims.
Since this single-use bottle design uses 30% less plastic than regular bottles, Poland Springs proudly boasts that they are “Doing their part.” The truth is, there is no need for plastic water bottles at all, and most plastic bottles end up in landfills, no matter their shape. Plus, the energy that goes into creating and transporting these bottles nullifies any “green” claim. You’ll live greener by drinking out of a reusable bottle made of stainless steel or aluminum.
This popular household cleaner labels itself as nontoxic and a “safer alternative” to other cleaners. However, a toxic solvent called butyl cellosolve is one of Simple Green’s key ingredients. Butyl cellosolve is also found in some traditional all-purpose cleaners. It seems Simple Green is aware of this problem, because its label warns customers to not “dispose near storm drains, oceans, lakes, or streams.” Simple Green maintains that the cleaner is nontoxic, but acknowledges the presence of butyl cellosolve. The company says they will soon launch a truly all-natural cleaner to meet customer demand, but in the meantime, stick with homemade mixes of water and baking soda.
3. Green Trash Bags:
Although marketed as biodegradable or compostable because they break down faster than normal trash bags, green trash bags must be used correctly to earn the green title. If not, they negatively impact the environment. If you fill a green bag with leaves, for example, the leaves break down along with the bag, and repurpose as mulch. On the other hand, if the bags are stuffed with empty containers of bug pray, bleach, cleaners, or similar, more common forms of “garbage,” the composting bag leaks whatever is inside. A regular plastic trash bag, although not itself good for the environment, contains whatever it holds and prevents toxins from getting out.
4. Toyota Prius:
Along with the recent safety concerns, the first—and most popular—hybrid car may or may not be an eco-friendly set of wheels. New, albeit conflicting, scientific reports take note that although the Prius claims to get up to 6o mpg, gas mileage is the last factor to weigh when considering the green qualities of a vehicle. The production, raw materials sources, and the shipping methods all matter more, and in these areas, Toyota definitely does not measure green. For example, the Prius’ battery contains nickel mined in a Canadian mill nicknamed “The Superstack,” because it produces miles of wasteland and pollution. The mined nickel then travels to Europe, China, Japan, and the United States for different steps in the production process via freighter—costly in both dollars and carbon emissions. Other studies debunk these, so do copious research before shelling out for any hybrid vehicle.
5. Artificial Christmas Trees:
These faux pines have long been lauded as a green alternative to chopping down a natural tree, but the unsafe levels of lead and PVC (and smell!) remain a concern, as many come from Chinese warehouses. As artificial trees age and spend most of the year in storage, they begin release lead dust. Artificial trees are also very difficult to throw out; the plastic does not decompose and cannot be recycled. Although pesticides are sometimes used on real Christmas trees, environmentalists say that real Christmas trees are the best option from an ecological point of view. Besides the fact that there’s no PVC or lead dust releasing, real Christmas trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Christmas tree farms exist only to grow Christmas trees, so your purchase does not contribute to deforestation. You can even opt for an organic Christmas trees by looking up farms in your area. Environmentalists also suggest purchasing a tree you can replant after the holidays, but if not, at least compost the tree or drop it off at a local area dedicated to repurposing the tree as mulch.
If you even further proof that going green is difficult, according to a study noted on the Freakonomics blog, new research concludes that green products negatively affect behavior. People who purchase green products “act less altruistically and more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products.” So going green makes you feel better, but act worse. And with SUVs and pesticides making eco-friendly claims these days, don’t trust the label. Do the research.