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As public awareness of Global warming has grown, so have inflated claims by companies about their products’ environmental credentials. In response, the EU is set to introduce a draft plan in March that will force firms to comply with a new legal framework. Under the plan, companies will have 10 days to justify green claims or face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties. This measure aims to address the issue of greenwashing, where companies make unsubstantiated claims about their products’ environmental bona fides.

Source: Our Changing Climate/Youtube

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) strongly supports the plan, which will beef up market surveillance authorities to fight greenwashing. However, BEUC’s director, Monique Goyens, says that “a future EU green claims law will only be as good as its enforcement… Authorities should regularly control green claims, publicly disclose their findings, and be able to fine companies who mislead consumers.”

The directive obliges firms to substantiate green claims using a standardised product lifecycle analysis that covers all environmental impacts. Important data, including a certificate of conformity, must be available to the public via a QR code or a weblink. EU states will have to empower or set up new agencies to launch investigations, make regular checks, and enforce the new law.

More than 200 eco-labels are currently used in the EU, relying on different methodologies. A commission survey found that half of the labels’ verification procedures were either weak or absent. By comparison, the new directive is set to be “the most specific and far-reaching,” laying out clear definitions of what constitutes green claims and their breach, according to Antoine Oger, the head of the Institute for European Environmental Policy’s global challenges programme.

However, the directive does not regulate the type of “carbon removal” methods that can be accepted in offsetting schemes. This gap may enable fossil fuel companies to “offset” their emissions through CO2 removal projects, such as forests, which have a high risk of reversal through trees decaying, burning, or moving north due to Global warming.

In addition to the EU’s proposed crackdown on greenwashing, companies continue to face accusations of making false or misleading environmental claims. Tesco, a British retail giant, is the subject of a complaint by a team of researchers who say that the company’s “biodegradable” teabags do not fulfil that claim.

Dr Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas from University College Cork (UCC) set out to investigate how well teabags advertised as biodegradable broke down. She buried 16 Tesco Finest Green Tea with Jasmine pyramid teabags in garden soil for a year. However, when she dug them up, they remained intact. The teabags were made from polylactic acid (PLA), a plant-based bioplastic.

Tesco argued that the packaging clearly states that its teabags are not approved for disposal in soil or home composting but need to be industrially composted. Tesco said, “We strongly dispute the claims made in this study and believe that the findings are misleading. The method of decomposing teabags used in the study does not reflect the on-pack advice we give customers.”

The researchers argued that if the average consumer has two cups of tea a day, they could have more than 700 teabags in their home compost bin or garden after one year. If the teabag showed no sign of disintegration after a year, it is reasonable to believe that it could persist in the soil for much longer. Therefore, the researchers believe that Tesco’s claim is “not only false but also misleading and unsubstantiated.”

As consumers become increasingly conscious about the impact of their purchases on the environment, it’s crucial that companies accurately communicate the environmental credentials of their products. The EU’s proposed crackdown on greenwashing, coupled with stricter penalties for companies that mislead consumers, is a step in the right direction. As individuals, we can also take action by educating ourselves about what truly constitutes sustainable products and holding companies accountable for their green claims. Let’s work together to create a more sustainable future.

Tiny Rescue Climate Collection

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