Is 'Biodegradable' the New Greenwashing?

9 non-profit organizations launch Plastics BAN (Better Alternatives Now) List

Nine leading non-profit conservation organizations—5 Gyres Institute, Algalita, Californians Against Waste, Clean Production Action, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Responsible Purchasing Network, The Story of Stuff Project, Surfrider Foundation, and UPSTREAM Policy—joined together to produce the Plastics BAN (Better Alternatives Now) List, a series of reports that identify the world’s most dangerous plastics in order to better protect our oceans and environment.

The most current report, Plastics BAN List 2.0, just launched at the Global Wave Summit in Santa Cruz in March. This report also examines the true life cycle of "plant-based" plastic products, finding that most do not actually break down and that the terms "compostable" and "biodegradable" may be the next generation of greenwashing.

"There are better alternatives available right now to move towards a world free of plastic pollution," said Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, of the new list. "The BAN List 2.0 is a tool for organizations, businesses, and policy makers to better understand the true environmental (land and sea) and human health costs of plastics."

The Plastics BAN List 2.0 includes data from across the United States, focusing on plastics that present the most significant chemical hazards in manufacturing, those that are the most dangerous when absorbed by humans and which persist longest in the environment. Items reported as top offenders include food wrappers, bottle caps, beverage bottles, bags, straws, and lids, made primarily from polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene plastics.

"BAN List 2.0 is both a snap shot of the top 20 plastic products polluting the land and waterways in the U.S., but also an in-depth look at the role of bioplastics in society," said Marcus Eriksen, co-founder and Research Director at the 5 Gyres Institute.

Annually, eight million tons of plastic escapes collection systems to end up in the ocean, where it contributes to the 5.25 trillion particles of plastic smog that choke marine ecosystems. The Plastics BAN List series provides a window into the true environmental and human health costs of plastics, and can be used to help corporations understand their responsibility to design less harmful products.

The BAN List includes a call to action to solve plastic pollution by a) drastically reducing and eventually eliminating the use of plastic for single-use-disposable products and applications, b) developing reusable systems for appropriate to-go food and beverage products, while c) advancing extended producer responsibility (EPR)—which makes consumer goods companies responsible for financing collection and recycling—to manage the remaining plastic in commerce.

"We're going to need companies—in all shapes and sizes—to recognize that the indiscriminate use of disposable plastic packaging is a liability for their business and could negatively impact customer loyalty," reads the call to action. "We need them to see the advantages and market opportunities inherent in more sustainable reusable packaging systems and non-plastic packaging alternatives."

Download the PDF of The Plastics BAN List 2.0.

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