Green claims in the packaging sector: no legal vacuum despite missing standards

18 Nov 2021 − 

Environmental claims on food and consumer goods packaging, so-called green claims, have become ubiquitous: "biodegradable", "recyclable", "100% recycled", "environmentally friendly" or "sustainable" are just a few of them.

Such statements are a thorn in the side of consumer protection advocates. For example, at the end of last year, the consumer organisation of North Rhine-Westphalia (Verbraucherzentrale NRW) scrutinised the packaging of drugstore products and foodstuffs and came to the conclusion that certain statements can lead to unfairly positive assessments by consumers. At the beginning of this year, the Hessian consumer organisation also dealt with the issue and examined the packaging of food and cosmetics for their environmental claims. They concluded that the majority of the packaging examined promised much more than it delivered in terms of sustainability.

The internationally active non-profit organisation ECOS (Environmental Coalition on Standards) also draws attention to the lack of clear and specific legal regulations on green claims and says that for companies, it is virtually a free pass to use vague formulations that can confuse and potentially deceive consumers.

Lawyers point out that environmental claims must be clear, precise, verifiable and accurate. If they are vague, unspecific or only imply in general that a product is environmentally friendly, they should not be used and the EU Commission is currently working on its "Green Claims" initiative in order to create a transparent, reliable and comparable basis for companies to make claims about the sustainability and environmental friendliness of their products. The aim is to avoid cases of greenwashing in the future.

⇒ This is an excerpt from a more comprehensive article on green claims published in EUWID Packaging Markets 23/2021.

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