Green Accountability and Visibility of Imported Reusable Bags

14 Jun 2010 Green Accountability and Visibility of Imported Reusable Bags

At a recent conference I attended as I was walking the show aisles, I was handed an “eco friendly reusable bag” by one of the exhibitors. As you can imagine, that always gets my attention, plus by that time, I was carrying sufficient items and information, to be grateful for a bag.

What the Green Supplier Wants You to See

We’re not going to get into the bag manufacturer or even the exhibitor that was handing the bags out, because it could have been one of many different suppliers who put a bright spotlight on the green speak and intentionally places the questionable details in the dark.

What the bag supplier chose to make highly visible is “80% post consumer waste” which was printed in large, bold letters on the side panel of the bag. “Pretty impressive,” I thought, knowing that rarely are non-woven reusable plastic bags made out of that high a recycled content, especially of PCW recycled content. “Certainly this bag must be domestic”, I guessed, knowing that as bad as we are about recycling our post consumer plastic waste, other countries are even worse.

I walked the rest of the show, carrying and displaying my “eco friendly reusable bag”.

Green Should Be Beautiful on the Inside, Too

The following day when I emptied my bag, I looked at the two small labels inside and the incredibly tiny print on them. At very close inspection I realized the bag was made of 100% polypropylene and that it was manufactured in China. “Hmmm. That doesn’t sound right,” I thought, recalling the 80% PCW claim printed on the outside of the bag.

I have been told by people who import low cost plastic bags on a daily basis that many Chinese and other foreign manufacturers will gladly sew in any labels you want with any message you want. They are not inclined to allow the truth to get in the way of a good, green message. Their job is to manufacture products as inexpensively as possible and deliver it on time.

It does not take a chemist or mathematician to figure out that if this bag is 100% polypropylene and 80% post consumer waste as they claim, 80% of the polypropylene waste was something else before it was collected, re-processed and re-extruded into a reusable, non-woven polypropylene bag. Here in the US, polypropylene is used mostly for drinking straws, yogurt cups, medicine bottle, ketchup bottles, and other food related packaging uses.

What is the Truth about Plastic Recycling and Use?

I cannot claim to have the answer and I wish there was something for plastic like FSC certification on paper products. Until then, none of us will be able to trace back the source of the raw materials used to manufacture this bag but I can tell you that it is very unlikely to be 100% factual. The people in China would have to eat a lot of yogurt and recycle a lot of cups to make it out of their own domestic waste. OR, they would have to import our waste to China and bring it back in the form of these 100% post consumer waste plastic bags? Both scenarios are unlikely, probably uneconomical and definitely not very green when you consider the carbon footprint left behind.

The clincher for me is calling their bag “recyclable” but not telling us where or under what conditions. A manufacturer truly green and concerned about the environmental impact of the product they make would understand that providing that information is not optional and part of their responsibility. In my mind, the importer is even more responsible because they are the ones eagerly marketing the products’ relative greenness.
I used to say, “don’t believe what eco minded suppliers say, believe what they are willing to put in writing, on their product, web site or brochures”. Today however I find it increasingly difficult to believe the black and white people write about green because there is little or no accountability, especially when the product comes from overseas.

As consumers of green products we have to be incredibly vigilant and as suppliers of green products, even more so.
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