Future Green Label Needs to Tackle Plastic Pollution

Under its current form, the Environmental Footprint initiative fails to fully address one of the crucial points of the environmental impact of products - plastic pollution. The negative effect of plastic pollution on humans, animals and ecosystems is not included in the PEF calculations and will not be communicated to the consumer, fear stakeholders engaging in the initiative. The European Environmental Bureau raised the issue back in 2018, after the end of the pilot phase. Currently, to measure the environmental footprint of a product from the raw material to the end-of-life, the PEF method is testing it against 16 impact categories ranging from climate change to the use of natural resources or toxicity. No category looks into whether the product causes plastic leakage. The Product Environmental Footprint initiative will pave the way for EU-wide legislation on the environmental performance of goods and organisations. The PEF profiles should enable companies to make legitimate environmental claims based upon evidence. But boiling down complex, multi-dimensional calculations to a single score that might be put on a label could turn out misleading. For example, if an essential pollutive feature of a product like plastic pollution is not considered, the information reaching the consumer will not provide a complete picture of the environmental cost of the product. Such oversimplification risks leaving consumers under the false impression that they are choosing the 'better-for-the-environment' product without knowing that some environmental impacts they care about are not considered. Failing to address the problem with plastics pollution in its major environmental initiative would undercut the Commission’s own efforts to tackle plastic waste as promised in the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Green Deal. Measuring plastics' environmental impact is typically not part of LCA assessments, because it remains challenging to track, measure and quantify the adverse effect of plastic leakage across supply chains. This means it is unlikely that plastic pollution would become an impact category before the legislation arrives. Yet, there is a solution. Plastic pollution can be included in the PEF studies under the so-called additional environmental information. Building on this information, law-makers could request that the plastic pollution risk be stated explicitly on the label alongside the PEF score. More than 5.5 million tons of synthetic microfibers have ended up in the environment since 1950 because of clothes being washed in machines, estimates researchers from Sciences et Avenir. Microplastics are found in ecosystems everywhere on the planet, and even in products for human consumption such as beer, honey and salt. Many see the involvement of consumers to be the key in the fight for a cleaner, resource-efficient, circular economy. But serving over-simplified information to consumers led by the desire to make it easy to choose the greener products carry a risk of leading to further confusion amongst consumers – a problem meant to be tackled by this environmental initiative in the first place.