The UK Advertising Standards Authority will be taking stricter action against advertisements that make false claims of being “biodegradable” or “recyclable”.
The advertising regulator is requesting businesses to provide more clarity on claims of “biodegradable” for items like plastic bottles, takeaway cups, and food packaging that may not actually break down within a reasonable amount of time.
According to a recent report by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), British consumers think they are being environmentally friendly when disposing of waste, but this may not always be the case. The study, which involved interviewing numerous consumers, revealed a lack of understanding about terms like “biodegradable,” “compostable,” and “recyclable,” leading to frustration when they learned the true meanings of these terms.
The ASA reports that families in the United Kingdom feel a sense of accomplishment when it comes to recycling and managing food waste. They are committed to doing their part in preserving nature by properly sorting their trash and choosing products with environmentally-friendly packaging.
Nevertheless, there were individuals involved in the recent study who interpreted the labeling as indicating that the packaging would completely vanish or disintegrate. A portion of those polled were taken aback upon discovering that packaging labeled as “biodegradable” does not have a defined timeframe for decomposition and may potentially release harmful substances.
Several items labeled as “compostable” require proper disposal at a specialized waste facility and cannot properly decompose in a regular household compost bin. Despite this, a significant portion of those surveyed were under the misconception that these products could be composted at home.
Miles Lockwood, the ASA’s director in charge of complaints and investigations, announced that the regulator will be taking strong measures against the inclusion of certain terms in advertisements as part of their efforts to combat greenwashing.
“Customers expressed their satisfaction with their environmental efforts, such as using green bins and separating waste, which made them feel proud and good about their actions.”
According to Lockwood, discussing the distinctions between recycling at home versus recycling at a center evoked feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction about the current situation.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that because an item is labeled as “compostable,” it can be disposed of in their personal compost bin. However, upon being informed that this is not the case and that the item will not decompose without being taken to a designated facility, there is often a strong negative reaction.
The concept of biodegradability lacks a clear definition, leading to frustration and outrage as some products can take a long time to break down and may even turn into microplastics. Companies should make more effort to clarify the distinction. Research has revealed that many plastics advertised as “home compostable” do not actually break down, with a failure rate of 60% after six months. Pollution is a major contributor to the decline of biodiversity and waste is a significant contributor to methane emissions.
The ASA has prohibited advertisements that were deemed to deceive consumers about the climate emergency and environmental damage. In 2022, the ASA banned a Lipton Ice Tea commercial for falsely implying that the bottle was made entirely from recycled materials, even though the cap and label were not.
In the past, it has accepted grievances regarding the biodegradability claims of baby wipes and dog poop bags. It also pledged to prohibit the use of “carbon neutrality” claims with offsets, due to worries that numerous offsets do not actually help the environment.
The research conducted by ASA revealed that individuals often trust environmental statements in advertisements, assuming that companies must have proof or evidence to back up their claims, especially when statistics are used. Respondents expressed a desire for transparent information about product contents, disposal methods, timeline, and the resulting impact on the environment.
The report is in light of stricter regulations on eco-friendly statements in commercials. Recently, the ASA prohibited two Toyota commercials for promoting driving practices that ignore the effects on the environment. They stated that the SUV ads were made without considering the impact on society.
According to Lockwood, businesses are attempting to achieve accuracy, but they frequently make foolish errors. A significant portion of the time, we encounter companies that are overly eager, too general, and unclear, failing to guide consumers through a journey with them. They rely on assumptions about consumers’ knowledge.
“We have been placing a significant emphasis on cases involving the oil and gas, airlines, and banking industries. We are now taking action against companies in these sectors that make false ‘green halo’ claims, only highlighting their environmentally friendly practices while disregarding other aspects of their operations,” he stated.
Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X for all the latest news and features