I once heard a friend proudly declare, “My family doesn’t create much garbage, but my recycling bin is always full!” Somehow there’s a notion that if something is recyclable, it isn’t trash. Similarly, if a product is marketed by a company to be “biodegradable” or “compostable” it also gets the brush off as not really being garbage. But according to the FTC (the organization put in place to protect shoppers from misleading claims, including greenwashing), the terms Biodegradable, Compostable, and Recyclable have some pretty strict limitations:
To claim a product is “biodegradable,” a company should have proof the product will completely break down and return to nature within a year. Landfills shut out sunlight, air, and moisture, so even paper and food could take decades to decompose. Most plastics won’t biodegrade even outside of a landfill.
If a product is labeled “compostable,” all the materials in it should safely turn into usable compost in a home compost pile. If the product can be composted only at certain places, like a commercial facility, the advertising should say so.
A product can be labeled “recyclable” only if the entire item can be recycled. Even if a product is recyclable, you’ll need to check with your local government to see if your community recycles it, and how.*
Essentially, if any item is bound for a landfill, it should not be considered biodegradable or compostable, unless there is strong evidence to support it, and the evidence is usually lacking. Even things that we naturally assume to be biodegradable have been found intact inside the anaerobic environment of landfill. Apple cores, newspapers from fifty years ago, the first ever disposable diaper … unless you are avoiding landfill completely, you are indeed creating garbage.
It’s the first R: Reduce. And it goes hand in hand with another awesome R: Refuse. The only way to avoid the landfill is to use products that are designed to stay out of the landfill.
Organic ingredients, post-consumer recycled content, packaging that suggests it’s compostable because it’s made from cellulose instead of plastic … we see these efforts every day in the aisles of our favorite natural grocer. But despite the FTC’s best efforts to minimize marketing claims that aren’t completely accurate, we need to own the responsibility to be truly earth conscious and not buy into an “eco illusion”. Single use items, like organic tampons for example, are still bound for the landfill. They are still creating garbage. The growing methods of organic cotton versus conventional cotton is significant in terms of the water saved and elimination of pesticides, and we do not deny that is a step up in cotton production methods. But whyyyyy would we waste such valuable organic cotton (or any cotton) on something that gets used once and then thrown away? For every disposable product on the market, there is a reusable alternative, and very often, you can actually make your own.
We know it’s cliché to say “Let’s make Earth Day, every day!” but, well, that’s what we do. We create products that are designed for years of multiple use, so that we can skip the landfill, and aim for a Zero Waste world where we can all proudly declare “My garbage bins — all of them — are empty!”.