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22 April 2024

Environmentally conscious shoppers at risk of being greenwashed

Consumer NZ investigated the green claims on a range of cosmetics and found some claims were lacking the required evidence to back them up.

Gemma Rasmussen, head of research and advocacy at Consumer, notes April 22 is Earth Day, a global movement which demands that sectors are held accountable for their role in the environmental crisis.

“Our investigation highlights just one of the many sectors wielding significant influence over eco-conscious consumers. Green marketing is powerful because it’s assuring – but if it’s inaccurate, it’s not okay.”

For example, a skin cleansing wipe made by Nivea claims to be biodegradable in water. However, if you use the wipe to remove make-up, it could lead to non-biodegradable particles entering the environment.

“It's highly likely that these wipes will end up in landfill,” said Rasmussen.

Garnier sells a Micellar Reusable Eco Pad that can be thrown in the washing machine and reused. While this sounds like an eco-friendly approach to skincare, the pads are made from polyester, a fabric which is likely to shed microplastics in the wash – so not so “eco” after all.

An Essano Collagen Boost sheet mask claims it will biodegrade in 6 months.

Essano mask 2x

“When we looked at this mask last year, it didn’t say what conditions it needed to biodegrade," said Rasmussen.

After being contacted by Consumer, Essano updated its website and packaging to say its cotton fibres “decompose within 6 months and can be commercially composted”.

However, Rasmussen says this update highlighted another issue.

“New Zealand’s commercial compost facilities are both limited and inept. The reality is, the mask will most likely end up in landfill.

“Despite tweaking the information, the packaging still fails to say what conditions the mask needs in order to biodegrade - like soil, or home compost. We think Essano is failing to meet best practice guidelines.”

Skin Republic's Retinol Hydrogel Under Eye Patch says the packaging and patches are biodegradable.

Skinrepublic patch 2x

“Again, this product features no information about the conditions needed or the time it would take for the patches and packaging to biodegrade.

"We want to see more information for shoppers so if they consciously choose a biodegradable product, they are armed with the necessary details to enable that product to meet its claim.”

New Zealanders want to make earth-friendly choices

“New Zealanders are increasingly changing to more sustainable products or brands,” said Rasmussen.

“One in ten have changed their spending habits for environmental reasons and there's a growing trend towards choosing more sustainable products or brands.”

According to Consumer, more than 75% of New Zealanders place some importance on a product’s green claims being verified before it’s sold. Despite this, there is no independent vetting or checking required before products making green claims hit New Zealand’s shelves.

“Our research found three quarters of shoppers don't check a product’s green claims to see how accurate those claims are.

“We think most people don’t dig into the claims on a product’s label because they trust what they see.

“However, our investigations continue to find that many green claims are unsubstantiated and risk breaching the Fair Trading Act,” said Rasmussen.

“It is incredibly hard to verify many claims on products marketed as environmentally friendly or ethical choices.

“It took hours for our research team to investigate the various ‘green’ claims on packaging. It’s unrealistic to put that onus on shoppers to determine what is a genuine green claim and what is greenwashing."

The case for change

The EU has agreed and is working to introduce a new law which bans greenwashing and misleading product information. The use of generic environmental claims like "natural", "biodegradable” and “eco” cannot be used without proof. Sustainability labels will also be regulated and will need to be based on official certification schemes or established by public authorities.

“We want to see similar action here so shoppers can trust what they see on a product’s label.

“Right now, many New Zealanders are paying a premium for products they believe are better for the environment.

“Earth Day is the perfect time to highlight how the current state is hitting our planet and the pocket. It's time for change.”

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End greenwashing now

We need new regulations to tackle dodgy 'green' claims.

Find out more

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