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It's illegal to make false green product claims

It's illegal to make false green product claims

Business can get bitten by ACCC for making false green claims about products, no matter how big or small they are

(This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated)

While most people aren't aware of their consumer rights, Australia does have very specific laws requiring sellers to be factual in the way they represent the ingredients in their products. As sustainability claims become more important to both people and planet, the ACC spotlight is moving to green claims.

Here are a couple of examples that will make it a little easier to get your head around the facts, understand distortion - and how endemic it is - and allow you to make informed choices more often. 

Honey or Rice Malt

Provenance is an important claim any product can make. It's important because it speaks to the integrity of the ingredients, who made them, and that a consumer is simply getting what they think they paid for.

Honey is a bit of a cesspit for provenance claims so is a good one to use as an example. Interpol believe that up to 35% of 140,000 tonnes of honey coming from China is actually not honey at all, because China simply don't have enough bees to produce that amount of honey and have been investigating potential fraud. Where does it go?

Allegations raised with the ACCC in September 2018 related to blended Australian and imported honey. A suspicious Australian farmer got 28 jars of honey sold in Australian stores tested in German labs using a world class honey screening assessment not available in Australia. Of the tested 28 jars, according to the tests, 12 contained adulterated honey, including 6 of Capilano's Allowrie Honey (which is 70% Chinese honey). 

Capilano has refused to acknowledge the validity of the tests, using the very real loophole that the official and 'rigorous' Australian tests can't actually detect the ingredients the honey is being cut with.

This is a fine example of playing the letter of the law, but it doesn't change the facts. If the honey is laced with Rice Malt Syrup as claimed, then Capilano may not actually be the biggest honey retailer in Australia, but instead just a business playing dress ups as a honey retailer.

The solution? If you want to be sure what you are really eating, maybe just buy Australian or even better, trust your local.  

Plastic Bags & Plastic Products Disposability

There probably isn't a person in the country who hasn't been duped at some point by plastic bag vendors making all kinds of claims about biodegradability and compostability

The ACCC released a great paper on plastic claims and warning to businesses that make claims such as biodegradable, degradable or recyclable on their plastic shopping bags and packaging must ensure those claims can be substantiated and are appropriately qualified.

The ACCC paper addresses a great example of something that isn't said. In this case, that most plastics actually need a commercial biodegradable environment to break down (ie, not the backyard compost bin) and as such this kind of info needs to be specified - not purposely left out. 

Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrushes

Up there with plastic bags biodegradability and compostability is the confusion around bamboo toothbrushes. Bamboo toothbrushes are an excellent example of 2 points:

  1. Missing information and
  2. Dubious supply chains

Bamboo toothbrushes are marketed as being compostable and biodegradable. The thing is that pure bamboo toothbrush handles are biodegradable and home compostable.

The bristles however are Nylon 6 plastic and are not biodegradable and that is rarely spelt out as most commentary is about the bamboo handle replacing a plastic one and ignores the plastic bristle. 

There have been several unconfirmed reports of offshore manufacturers claiming the toothbrush bristles are Nylon 4, when in fact they are Nylon 6, thereby genuinely misleading Australian businesses. The reality however is that anyone selling these brushes would have to know by now about all the scuttle about the brushes and have conducted due diligence. If you read the fine print on most vendor's sell pages, most specifically sight the biodegradability of the handle.

It's for this reason that it's hard for a toothbrush to score more than 45 on Ekko Score. (Of course, 99.9% of the world's toothbrushes have plastic bristles, so Bamboo Toothbrushes are still way better than a plastic handled toothbrush.)

The more honest or aware vendors will also point out that the bristles are not biodegradable and tell you to pull the bristles out before you put the brush into compost. 

Certification - Formal or Self

Given the many governing laws and extensive advice from the ACCC, there is every reason to accept the word of a business who claims a certification, even if it isn't a formal certification. Great examples are the many many body care product makers whose long ingredient lists are organic or natural. 


The ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) have published an excellent guide to Green Marketing and the Australian Consumer Law which anyone can download. 

Images: Unsplash - Jeremy Bishop
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Simone N

Excellent article and reminder of how the ACCC (and ekko) is helping the smaller green guy ;-) Tuesday, 21 January 2020