“Greenwashing” is a type of advertising in which a company attempts to portray its products as being more environmentally friendly than they actually are in an effort to trick consumers into buying their products.
In a recent viral post, Instagram user Tod Barnett (@ben-honetodb) allegedly uncovered one such attempt at greenwashing at Costco, when he stumbled across some Berkshire Life ECO SOFT blankets — made out of 100% polyester.
“I’m at Costco right now and I just saw the most blatant greenwashing I think I’ve ever seen,” Barnett says in the video.
“It’s not even recycled polyester,” he continues. “They’re just saying the dye process uses half of the water [that it normally would.] This is just a microplastic factory and they’re saying that it’s eco-soft eco-thread.”
Polyester is a synthetic fabric favored by fast-fashion brands because it is cheap to produce and incredibly durable — unlike a natural fabric like cotton, polyester does not break down over time.
However, the other side of the durability coin is that polyester — which is made out of fossil fuels — is terrible for the environment. There are tens of billions of pounds of textiles sitting in American landfills right now, and the polyester items will take hundreds of years to decompose. And when they do, they’ll release methane gas, contributing to the overheating of the planet.
In addition, synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylic shed microfibers every time they are washed and dried. Those microfibers are too small to be caught in water purification filters, and they travel from wastewater into the ocean, where they harm marine life and ocean ecosystems.
When it comes to recyclability, the technology does not yet exist for it to be cost-effective for companies, which means that, like the ECO SOFT blankets Barnett found, almost any polyester product you buy is guaranteed to be 100% brand new virgin polyester.
Many of the commenters on Barnett’s post agreed with his assessment, while others commiserated about just how deceptive these types of advertising tactics can be.
“I would fully fall for this!” said commenter @maaarkle. “Thing is, it’s hard to spot greenwashing if you’re just being passive and just shopping in general.”
Another joked: “To be fair it does claim to be only 1% for the planet.”
However, there’s no reason that we have to buy into brands’ greenwashing tactics. If you want to avoid polyester and other synthetic fabrics — and make sure your choices are really eco-friendly — it’s as simple as checking the label and making sure that the clothes you buy are made of materials such as organic or recycled cotton, hemp, wool, or organic linen.