In the face of plastic pollution, how to decipher good ideas vs. false beliefs?


 On the occasion of the European Week for Waste Reduction, Surfrider Europe analyses several preconceived ideas about plastic pollution. In a world where we are overwhelmed by information, it is not always easy to make a clear distinction between the real and false solutions proposed. Awareness around ocean plastic pollution is growing, but so too is the pollution of false beliefs. How do we decide what is a true solution and what is a marketing ploy?   

Ecology as a communication argument   

 "The ecological argument" was originally created to validate companies promoting more environmentally product designs. This argument was reserved for products that had been awarded an eco-label guaranteeing compliance with certain environmental production criteria. Now, however, increasingly more companies are using this and similar terms as marketing tools to sell their products without putting in the work to change the product design. This leads to an abusive, and misleading use of so-called ecological arguments that create ambiguity for consumers.  

It is important to distinguish the difference between proposals that contribute to long-term impactful solutions and those that simply address a symptom without correcting the problem at its source. A prime example is the use of so-called ‘recycled plastic’ products. They certainly have an ecological interest compared to a product that would be 100% made from virgin plastic, but this does not make them harmless or beneficial to the environment. The message is not precise and suggests that the ecological interest is higher than the reality, or even that the product has no impact on the environment at all.  

A vocabulary rich in form, but not always in substance  

Brands, companies, and advertisements appropriate pro-environmental language. The vocabulary surrounding sustainable development is as numerous as it is striking and convincing for most of us. And yet, for most of them, they only engage the responsibility of the company or brand in question.  

For example, communicating on a product or service that is more "ecological", more "natural", less "polluting", less "toxic", less "impacting" on the environment only presents the company's vague "responsible" approach. Wording like this causes confusion among consumers due to a lack of clarity or definition which hinders the proper interpretation of the real ecological issues. These terms loosely used are not linked to concrete measues such as production methods, product composition, sorting methods, carbon footprints, etc. and often misdirect consumers who are trying to make the right choice.    

We are willing to pay more for more environmentally friendly products, and the manufacturers have paid close attention to this purchasing shift. It is therefore essential to remain vigilant and aware of the facts in order to make the right consumption choices.   

Plastic Fake Outs or True Solutions?  

As a reminder, each year more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the ocean, or 256kg per second! This plastic does not disappear. It breaks down into micro or nanoparticles, continuing to leach chemicals and pollute every level of the ocean ecosystem.  

Faced with a general awareness of the extent of the damage caused by plastic pollution, many plastic manufacturers are trying to propose solutions or alternatives which are more eco-responsible, biodegradable or even bio-sourced, but are they really?   

 European Week for Waste Reduction is an opportunity for Surfrider Europe to address some of the preconceived ideas we may have about solutions to plastic pollution.   

 Follow us all this week on social media as we discuss a few plastic Fake Outs!  

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