Are plastic bags actually sustainable? Probably everyone’s first reaction to this is along the lines of “no way!”. That was my reaction too, but while reading this article it really made me question what greenwashing is, and showed me that sometimes there can be a very fine line between a company taking it’s first steps to be more sustainable and greenwashing.
The article starts off with the blogger going to the San Francisco Green Festival and seeing that Ziploc had a booth at the festival, there because of a new program they unvieled where customers sign up online and say they will recycle their Ziploc bags. With a big portion Ziploc’s product portoflio not considered sustainable, it didn’t make sense why there were at this festival so she took a picture of the booth and posted it online to see what the reaction’s were from other people. At first the reactions were what she expected, that it was unacceptable for Ziploc to be represented there. Until she got this response to her picture:
“again, you have to look at it from the average person’s perspective. Buying in bulk and putting in individual ziploc bags that you reuse is more eco friendly than buying individual bags of goldfish. same with using their reusable snack containers. Also, the SCJ company is in the process of building 2 of the largest wind turbines in the US to power their facility. When they are done those turbines will provide 100% of the electrical power used at that location. All ziploc bags are BPA and dioxin free. I would encourage people to consider that MOST people are not as green as this group and even if a ‘traditional’ company isn’t 100% green that doesnt mean they should be stomped on for what they ARE doing to help.”

And this one:
“Hi my name is Lisa and I use Ziplock bags in my freezer because it is small. I wash and reuse them because my Husband insists we have them since the day I moved in with him. They allow us to do green things like buy in bulk and reduce waste. We had the same box for a couple of years because we use containers more often but it would be a lie to say they aren’t a tool in our low waste high cooking from scratch arsenal.”
But then you have responses such as the one below that contradict the first two and make you think, what if they aren’t intensionally greenwashing? Does it still count? and then what is the difference between being in the process of becoming sustainable and greenwashing?
“I don’t think that plastic baggies are “green” even if they can be recycled. One thing that I can say is that from my perspective of doing many many beach cleanups, I pick up SO many zip-lock baggies on thebeach (shoot, go to a park after there’s been a picnic and you’ll be guaranteed to find a few.) I agree that some people may use them over and over again… but MOST people aren’t. Just look at the way kids throw them away when they’re finished with their lunches at school. Besides if they weren’t meant to be a disposable product they wouldn’t be sold in boxes of 100+.”

After reading the first two, it made me question whether or not they were greenwashing so I had to go back and look at the definition of greenwashing which is “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” On one hand, they’re not explicitly telling people a lot about other the other good projects they have going on such as the windmills as well as the bad side of plastic. So is it greenwashing or just miscommunication in general? Also, they’re in the process of becoming more sustainable by adding the windmills which will make their processes more sustainable. And when you’re in the process of being green, you’re still going to have a lot of things that are unsustainable so does that count as being the sin of hidden trade off in green marketing?

Finally after reading both sides of the argument, I think they are green washing. Yes, they are doing all these great things to become more sustainable but they aren’t tackling the biggest problem; people are more likely to throw away the bag after one use instead of recycling. This is something that could be easily be communicated to the public, especially at Green Festival. And it could be something people could be doing in the meantime while Ziploc finds a way to become even more sustainable and make biodegradable bags. Or the company could even shift their marketing to focus more on their reusable container line. Right now, their program to recycle the bags is kind of irrelevant because they are still using new materials and there is no guarantee that people will recycle because they just sign up online and hopefully they will keep their word. There is nothing to enforce it.

I found this article so interesting because it made me actually think about what green washing is and try to solve some difficult issues around the definition of green washing. With becoming sustainable still so new there are so many unanswered questions, still so many questions people haven’t asked yet and in general, it’s just a big learning process with no concrete and defined processes and rules to go about it. On one hand, this article shows you that green washing can be green washing even when you thought it wasn’t and that no company is going to be perfect on their quest to becoming sustainable so don’t forget to give some praise when you hand out the criticism.