Ambassador Spotlight: Misleading Labels 101

Here at Be Zero we're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles.  This post is from our Ambassador Kathleen, she shares a story about how those feel good green labels are not always as green as they seem! Enjoy!

By Kathleen Roland

When a company claims their packaging is “100% Recyclable” it creates a false sense of good deed. Take this picture, for example.

There’s an exception to the “100% Recyclable” declaration. The exception is that the cap and bottle label are not recyclable-- the product in its entirety is not actually 100% recyclable. You need to alter it first for it to become totally recyclable. To me, that is sneaky and dishonest, and in itself is a red flag. The label is misleading us to believe that the company is environmentally concerned and friendly. “But they create products that can be recycled, so they must be eco-friendly, right?” Wrong. 

If the company really was environmentally concerned they would not be mass producing single-use products that take harsh chemicals and fossil fuels to create and are not biodegradable. Just sayin’! And as far as recycling, there are a lot of misconceptions that go along with recycling.  Generally speaking, most people have been taught that recycling is a solution that makes plastic okay. We are taught that recycling helps save the planet. We are told to throw all plastics in the recycling bin for the Collectors and voilà! Your good deed is done! This is why these companies throw the word “recyclable” out there. We are taught that recycling is good, so companies that sell recyclable products must be good, therefore we should keep buying their products.

Let’s get more into recycling so you can better understand the problem with the picture above. As far as recycling, there are two major facts that we should all know. First, recycling is a for-profit business.

People want to make money off of it any way they can. Second, recycling lacks a strong infrastructure. Simply put, infrastructure is what an operation needs to function properly. A weak infrastructure means an inconsistent business. For example, recycling centers collect plastic products and then try to sell those plastic products to companies and manufacturers. If plastic #2 is not in high demand, the recycling center disposes of those #2’s to make room for the other numbers 1 through 7 that are actually in demand. So, all those #2’s that were recycled by good intentioned consumers are heading out to landfills and the oceans either way. Only around 10% of recycled products actually get recycled because of the economy of the recycling business.
Another example of inconsistency, which the label above also admits to, is that recycling is not always widely available or convenient.

Where I live, in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, collectors accept plastics numbered 1 through 7. However, my sister’s town of Jessup, Pennsylvania does not enforce recycling. It is voluntary meaning no one is coming to empty your recycling bin for you. Let’s be real here, a lot of people do not want to be bothered with taking their recycling to the center every week on their own time. Having someone else come pick it up for you is a great initiative to recycle in the first place. 

While recycling a plastic product is better than not recycling it at all, (since there is a small chance of your disposed product being recycled) recycling is still not the answer. Recycling is not a solution. It does not change the fact that plastics are made out of harsh chemicals and fossil fuels. Recycling does not change the fact that plastics are not biodegradable, meaning they cannot break down naturally or safely in the environment. Do not let labels and companies fool you. They may not be 100% false, but they are not always 100% true. This label is an example of a misleading product label with the intentions to grab you in for a sale. Look at the product for what it is, not what manufacturers want you to see. Avoid plastics when you can, then recycle when you can, and spread your new knowledge of recycling to your friends and family!