Green has hit the mainstream. That's good, because it means that green products and alternatives are more plentiful than ever before. But it's also bad, because it means that everyone and their brother wants to cash on a green scheme. Virtually every product you see these days is making some kind of green claim. So how can you tell which ones are real and which are fake? Yesterday, I wrote about the labels to look for that show a product can back up its eco-claims. Today, here's a look at the labels to avoid ... the meaningless labels that can't really be defined or substantiated in any way. Don't be fooled by these eco-imposters.

Biodegradable: This is a popular greenwashing label, but in reality it means nothing. Most products will biodegrade, or break down, eventually, but that doesn’t mean they are eco-friendly. In addition, there are no independent agencies that certify this label as accurate. 

Cruelty-free: Unless this label is accompanied by the Leaping Bunny label (see above) it doesn’t mean a thing.  This term is not legally defined and there is no agency that verifies the claim. 

Free range: The “free range” label brings to mind animals roaming free in an open pasture, grazing in clean fields and drinking from fresh, cool streams. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. For starters, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has only defined the term for labeling poultry, not beef or eggs. So a “free range” label on eggs is completely meaningless. And the vague wording of the definition makes it meaningless for poultry as well. According to the regulations, in order for poultry to be labeled “free range,” the chickens must “have access to the outdoors for an undetermined period each day.” This means that having the coop door opened for a mere five minutes each day is good enough to get a stamp of approval from the USDA (even if the chickens never saw that it was open). 

Nontoxic: “Nontoxic” is another pointless label that is neither legally defined nor certified. 

Recyclable: Just because a product is labeled “recyclable,” does not mean that you will actually find any where to recycle it. Contact your local recycling center to find out what products and materials are accepted in your area.

Recycled: The term “recycled” is legally defined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) however, it is not verified by the FTC or any other agency. So what’s the point? Another problem with this label is that the FTC does not distinguish between pre-consumer and post-consumer waste. Post-consumer waste has already been used at least once and returned to the waste stream (i.e., yesterday’s newspaper).  Pre-consumer wastes, such as shavings from a paper mill, have never been used. Your best bet is to look for products that the highest percentage post-consumer waste possible.

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