Greenwashing Have You Seeing Red? Share Your Story

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When are you are a “green” type, you get pretty used to finding yourself in bewildering conundrums that, to an outside observer, would probably seem utterly ridiculous. In other words, me during what I have taken to calling “The Christmas Marker Dilemma.”

My Story

My daughter, Olive, is 2 and adores art. Furious scribbles, exploratory jabs at the paper with blunt crayons, wide sweeping brush strokes, the whole shebang. But in Olive’s world, markers reign supreme. Probably because she’s never owned any. She has never owned markers because obviously it gives me great joy to deprive her of everything fun in life, but also because they just seem like such a colossal waste of plastic.

Bulky plastic bodies topped with bulky plastic lids that inevitably get left off so the markers dry out and become unusable, at which point you must throw them out and replace them with more plastic bodies and plastic lids. Lord, give me crayons.

However, even a hardcore hippie like me is powerless against the most fervent wishes of an incredible 2-year-old, so this Christmas, “Santa” set out on a mission to find eco-friendly markers. Not such an easy task, as it turns out.

Guys, I spent way too many hours of my life researching coloring markers. This was really not how I pictured my life going, you know? Dozens of false starts later, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was either going to have to disappoint Olive, or suffer the knowledge that I had become one more contributor to the tragic trail of plastic marker waste.

Then one day as I was standing in line to buy a book about wild women (don’t ask), I happened to notice a package of markers sitting on a shelf. The package cheerily advertised that they were made of recycled newspapers. Recycled newspapers?! Now we’re talking — victory was mine! I had a grumpy toddler, full arms, and the next cashier was beckoning me over, so without a second thought, I giddily grabbed the markers, mentally crossed the item off my green-wild-goose-chase list, paid and left.

Then came Christmas Eve. I was sitting cross-legged in my living room wrapping gifts in reused paper bags (as one does) when I pulled out the fabled markers and opened the package to take a closer look.

IMG_20150128_104605Friends, this is what I saw.

Yes. You are seeing exactly what you think you are seeing. Each and EVERY marker advertised as being made from recycled newspaper was hermetically sealed inside of its own INDIVIDUAL plastic cigar tube. I … I don’t even know where to begin, honestly.

Ultimately, I can blame only myself. I talk about this type of greenwashing all the time. It’s an increasing common practice of companies capitalizing on growing environmental awareness by making vague claims, labeling things as “natural” or featuring one eco-friendly aspect of the product while downplaying its fundamentally wasteful nature. Marker-gate just goes to show that none of us are immune to greenwashing, no matter how aware of it we are. Especially at 4:30 p.m. in a crowded bookstore a week before Christmas with a cranky, marker-hungry toddler in tow.

To make myself feel better about this eco-fail (not to mention the fact that I now have to sacrifice many more hours of my life to figuring out how to reuse six plastic cigar tubes), I beg you to come together in solidarity and share your own stories of shame in the comments.

What’s Your Story?

What has been the worst example of greenwashing you have run across? “Eco-friendly” bleach? Toxic products getting a superficial green packaging makeover with natural-looking brown boxes decorated with leaves and om signs? Plastic dryer balls? Organic cheesies?

Share your worst stories of getting duped by greenwashing below! We can draw strength from solidarity and learn from each other’s missteps.

So, hippies, let’s hear it!

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Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.