The Truth About Being Environmentally-Friendly

Disaster movies have become a very popular genre in Hollywood recently–and for a good reason. With climate change getting worse each year, we all could use a wake-up call to remind us of what could possibly happen to our planet if we continue to neglect the environment, but the problem is we tend to treat disaster movies as entertainment more than anything else. We spend the runtime admiring the special effects, pondering about the future of the Earth, and shaking our heads at the absurdity of humanity, but once the movie is over, we move on with our lives. The environment is pushed to the backburner of our minds because we feel like we have a lot of other things to be concerned about. 


With the recent protests unveiling the gravity of the climate crisis, the scenes in disaster movies are starting to look less like what-if scenarios and more like an impending reality. According to a 2019 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace, 70% of the land in Southeast Asia is expected to be submerged by 2050, and most of it is located in the Philippines. Given these facts, we should be very concerned about climate change, and although it seems like we are doing enough with the widespread plastic bans and the continued rollout of eco-friendly products, there are signs that show we aren’t doing nearly enough to mitigate the climate crisis.


The myth of 100% recyclable packaging

Photo from Granger

People tend to joke about how Asians do not cause pollution because they hoard most of the plastic in their kitchen drawers, but not everything can be hoarded, and the sad reality is that only 30% of the plastics in the Philippines are recycled, while the rest of the plastics go to waste. This is because recycling is an expensive and lengthy process that requires the collective efforts of the individual, the government, and private companies. Even if you meticulously separate your trash from biodegradable to non-biodegradable, the lack of government-sponsored segregation programs and proper treatment facilities would mean that your trash ends up in the same garbage truck and goes straight to the landfills. 


The lack of market demand also means there are not many incentives to encourage companies to go through the expensive recycling process, and since the Philippines is dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses, it is often more practical for them to use virgin plastics rather than invest in pricey recycled packaging. This is made worse by the fact that landfill-tipping fees in the Philippines are so much cheaper.


There are also a lot of common misconceptions about recycling that affect our idea of being environmentally-friendly. For one, things such as coffee cups and some paper packaging cannot be recycled because they are often coated with a thin layer of plastic inside to keep the contents from leaking out. This makes it impossible to recycle, since separating these materials would require a special machine, which is not worth the effort.


Dirty plastic cannot be recycled either, so even if your take out container or pizza box is made of 100% recyclable material, they won’t be recycled unless they are scrubbed clean. Many recycling companies are unwilling to do this, especially if the food stains are already days old, so the packaging wouldn’t have a chance to be recycled unless you clean them yourself before throwing them away.


Greenwashing rather than concrete action

Photo from Sea Going Green

Greenwashing refers to the practice of investing more time and money into marketing strategies that make a product seem environmentally-friendly rather than putting more effort into implementing concrete practices to save the environment. There are “seven sins” of greenwashing to be specific, which you can learn more about in this video, but the general gist is that some companies utilize vague terms, third-party certification, and irrelevant information to attract eco-friendly shoppers. 


Some of the companies that got called out for Greenwashing include Volkswagen, which marketed their cars as low-emission vehicles, only to later admit that it used a special device that would alter the emission level of the cars while they were being tested. Another example would be Starbucks, which rolled out the “strawless lid” as part of its efforts to be more sustainable, but the new lid design was criticized because it used more plastic that would be harder to recycle compared to the old lid and straw combo. Lastly, one of the largest fast-fashion brands H&M launched the Conscious clothing line, which claims to use “organic” cotton and “recycled” polyester. Its mission was to create a collection of sustainable clothing that would make you look good and feel good, but there was a severe lack of information about the environmental benefits of the said collection.


Greenwashing is often deliberately done by companies to increase the market value of their products, especially during an age where more consumers are seeking an eco-friendly lifestyle, but it can also happen by accident, hence why it’s important for business-owners to be knowledgeable about what Greenwashing is in order not to commit these mistakes.


There is inequality in the Green Lifestyle

Photo from DW.com

As previously mentioned, recycling tends to be an expensive process, which is why many small and medium businesses are unable to invest in it. The same problem applies on an individual level, since committing to an eco-friendly lifestyle is easier said than done due to how costly it is for the average person. 


According to a study conducted by the Monash Business School, social class is a key factor that influences people to transition to Green consumption, and that’s because many eco-friendly products are on the pricier side. It’s understandable, since these products are costly to make, but there are also some companies that take advantage of the “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” label to charge consumers more. 


There is also a lack of widely-accessible and budget-friendly stores that allow you to refill certain grocery items and household products without the use of plastic packaging. To name an example, in order for you to buy bathroom products that don’t use plastic packaging, you would have to go to a store like Lush, which can be found in many malls, but the prices of products often exceed PHP500. 


This means the green lifestyle is only attainable for the wealthy few, while the average middle and lower class are only able to afford regular supermarket goods or single-use sachet products. So it’s not that people are refusing to be environmentally-friendly consumers, it’s just that the green lifestyle tends to be inaccessible for the average person.


Worst of all: first world countries are not taking responsibility for their trash

Photo from CNN

First world countries are hailed for being the most environmentally-friendly and the most staunch followers of the Sustainable Development Goals, but in reality, many of them are not actually recycling their own trash but instead are exporting them to developing countries. Japan, the United States, France, Belgium, and Sweden are the top exporters of plastic waste, while most of the imports went to China. However, when China banned import of all forms of plastic waste in 2018, the waste was redirected to developing countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.


Waste importation and recycling is a profitable industry for developing countries, so it might seem like a win-win situation, but the exported waste is often contaminated or falsely labeled as recyclable, which only leads to more environmental problems for developing countries. In this case, plastic waste exportation is just a way for first world countries to take responsibility off their hands and leave the developing countries to deal with the consequences. 


The climate crisis is upon us, and yet we still have a long way to go when it comes to being environmentally friendly. It isn’t a duty that can be passed around, and it shouldn’t be used as a marketing tactic or as a form of virtue signaling either. The fate of the whole planet is hanging on the line, and while plastic bans, waste segregation, and eco-friendly products are a good starting point, making a true impact on saving the environment requires the collective cooperation of the individual, the government, private companies, and the international sphere.

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