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Product Labels: What do They Mean and How Green are They?

August 13, 2008

Are you looking at labels now and getting confused? I was, and so have embarked on a quest to decipher the code. This was definitely worth digging into and worthy of sharing. I hope it makes label reading easier for a few people.

The first thing you have to determine is if the label is referring to the packaging or the contents! Next, look for something that makes a fairly specific statement. For example, an item that says “less waste” is too vague. “30% less waste than our original packaging” is more specific and therefore more credible. Also, anything that just says “eco-friendly” is too vague unless it spells out specifically HOW it is eco-friendly. The Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have worked together to try to be sure that consumers aren’t mislead by packaging.

It is still very easy for manufacturers to place ambiguous statements on their products, and this leaves the door wide open for green-washing.

What about all the symbols? We are all familiar with the recycling triangle and the plastic number in the center. Type 1 plastic, easiest to recycle, and refers to packaging.

The official mark of a product that is certified organic by the government. There are some state certified organic labels, which are totally credible, they perhaps may not follow the exact guidelines that give other items the USDA seal. You may want to look into those, and see if it is satisfactory to your preference of organic products.

No animal testing, or cruelty-free testing. I’ve found other symbols that are similar, but this one seems to be the most prevalent. It means that there were no animals harmed in testing, and products were not given to lab animals in cruel and unusual ways.

BIODEGRADABLE. There really is no symbol per se for ‘biodegradable’ that I’ve found. It’s just up to the company to note if the product or the packaging is “biodegradable” .

The same goes for NATURAL. If the label states it is ‘natural’, again, see if it says how or why it is natural. They are still working on regulating label statements, but as of yet, vagueness is still allowed.

These are just a few of the most common symbols you might encounter in your quest for going green/ organic. The main point is this: READ the label, the list of ingredients, and consider the level of specificness of the statements made. Until there are more strict regulations on claims made, it’s up to you to figure it out.

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