Misleading sustainability trends - the story of brown bags and bamboo bottles
|Date:||26 June 2021|
Imagine yourself walking into a drug store, walking by the shelves without a shopping list. Your eye is caught by a leaf-shaped bottle in a green jacket. You pick it up and read the label: ‘derived from natural materials, this bottle is 49% recyclable’. Your first thought will probably be: ‘that sounds good!’ Even though you know you have another bottle of shower gel at home, you start thinking. It is a good, sustainable choice. And it is derived from natural materials, so it has to be a good buy. Before you know it, the matcha-aloe shower gel is sitting in your basket. You walk to the cash desk, pay for your products and walk out the door with a brown paper shopping bag in your hand. ‘This is the future’, you think. But is it the right future
There is a new sustainability trend going on in the consumer industry. Shopping bags are quickly transforming from bright plastic bags into sober brown bags with a little green leaf on it. Single-use plastic bottles are exchanged for solid bamboo bottles and suddenly, every shampoo bottle you come across is recycled. In any store, physical or online, you trip over words like ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘planet-proof’. Even your new toothbrush has undergone a bamboo-transformation. For the consumer industry, this is a beneficial development. Whether this is also true for the planet, is questionable. Because those paper brown bags that always rip after ten minutes, cost 3800 liters of water for every thousand bags produced. The bamboo toothbrush you bought for two euros, is most likely produced in China. And that matcha-aloe shower gel? The fact that the label states that it’s recyclable, does certainly not mean that it is actually made from recycled materials. Or that it will be recycled once you’ve tossed it in the trash. It probably won’t.
Sadly enough, no matter how great it sounds that the consumer industry is changing, it is mainly just tricking us. It’s tricking us into buying products that we don’t need, or that we did not know we needed before entering social media. It is boosting our egos by feigning to be sustainable. The (expected) consequence is that this marketing strategy is actually working. Serious profits are made of this new trend and it’s not made on the planet’s side, as you might have guessed. Because no matter how brown a bag may be, or how many shades of green a shampoo bottle has, trees are still cut and microplastics still end up in the oceans. But I have to admit, it’s a great way for all those brands and retailers to make money and feel good about themselves.
Before you start commenting on the pessimistic tone in this piece, it is indeed not all that bad. There are a lot of new natural or green products on the market that are in fact sustainable. Products that are produced locally. Products that come in a truly recycled packaging, or no packaging at all. But they are a bit harder to find, probably a bit more expensive and they won’t come in a leaf-shaped bottle. Bear this in mind during your next shopping trip! Be critical and read the full label in the store (don’t put it off until you’re bored in the shower). And don’t fall for the word ‘sustainable’ right away. It’s tempting, I know. But at least you won’t end up with yet another seemingly sustainable matcha-aloe shower gel.
Hi! My name is Mattanja, I am a second year Dutch student studying the Bachelor of Art History. I try to live as much of a waste-free, sustainable lifestyle as possible and through my love of writing, I aim to share this lifestyle with others!