Claims of packaging that is sustainable, biodegradable, recyclable or compostable are floating around everywhere. Unfortunately, these claims are often unsubstantiated – they are not specific and not backed by third party proof. For example, for a package to qualify as “recyclable”, it needs to be accepted in more than 60% of US communities according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). For compostability claims, it is essential that packaging suppliers are specific as to whether it is home compostable or only accepted in industrial composting facilities and this needs to be accompanied by proof from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) for example.
To address the issue of “greenwashing” in the packaging industry, Greener Package has established a database for packaging suppliers to register their “sustainable” products. The idea is to finally have one set of guidelines for sustainability claims, one place to check these claims against these guidelines by a third party, and one place to look up packaging suppliers that have been accepted into the database and meet the guidelines.
While this database does not replace further in depth research and analysis of a product, it is a significant first step as a base filter – in particular since database users can dispute questionable claims, have entries reviewed further, or even withdrawn.
Now with the FTC Green Guide, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition criteria which I discussed in a previous post, and the Greener Package Guidelines, we are starting to see some solid improvements from basic definitions and guidelines, to a vision for improvement, to actual measurement and policing. Setting such universal standards is instrumental to give consumers the tools to properly assess their purchase decisions while rewarding those companies who invest in creating packaging that addresses as many of the principles of sustainable packaging as possible.