The Green Seal Compass: Minimizing Waste
10/29/2021 | Brie Welzer
This is part of a series of stories about Green Seal’s Compass. Find related stories here.
Green Seal’s work follows a compass that focuses on four key targets: protecting human health, minimizing waste, ensuring clean water, and preserving the climate. This compass keeps us focused on Green Seal’s priority impacts, ensuring that Green Seal certification reflects products and services that are safer for people and our planet. In this blog post, I will describe how Green Seal verifies that certified products have achieved significant waste minimization across the product lifecycle.
Addressing Product Waste Across the Lifecycle
Online shopping in the U.S. rose by an astonishing 32% in 2020 over the previous year, representing $790 billion in consumer spending. While many of us are conscientiously flattening the cardboard boxes, crumpling the hard plastics, and collecting the plastic film wrappings, we are seeking more sustainable options. Research shows more than half of US consumers are concerned with the environmental impact of packaging waste. To shift industry toward meaningful and significant waste prevention and minimization, and allow product users to dispose responsibly, Green Seal verifies waste minimization across the product lifecycle – from raw materials selection, product design, and production to transportation and end-of-life.
Recovered materials: preventing de-forestation and lowering emissions
Designing single-use tissue products with high levels of recycled content not only prevents deforestation but also reduces the carbon emissions generated during production.
Green Seal-certified bath tissue, facial tissue, and foodservice napkins are required to be composed of 100 percent recycled material – that means that there is no virgin fiber in those products. Why? These products are single use. Unlike writing paper, which can be recycled, it is important to design products based on how many times they can be re-used.
Choosing certified products adds up to big impacts. Green Seal-certified recycled-content sanitary paper saves 3.2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, the equivalent of taking 695,936 cars off the road for a year.
Product Design, Production, and Transportation
Concentration requirements: curbing plastic use and lowering emissions
Professional products and, more recently, a variety of household cleaning products – including laundry detergent pods and sheets – are shifting to concentrated products. This significantly reduces carbon emissions by avoiding shipping water weight from the manufacturing plant to the distribution center and then to a store, office, or home. For example, a conventional glass cleaner sold in the US can be filled with more than 90% water – meaning you can seek out low-carbon products simply by choosing products that come as concentrated pods and solid bars or sheets – instead of ready-to-use liquids.
To achieve certification, Green Seal requires professional products to be concentrated at the following levels:
- For general-purpose cleaners: at least 1:32 — 1 part product to 32 parts water
- For glass, restroom, and carpet cleaner: at least 1:16
Another significant benefit to concentrated products is the associated reduction in plastic use from replacing disposable plastic spray bottles with reusable systems. Case in point: Green Seal-certified concentrated cleaning products saved 197 million pounds of plastic in 2020 alone – the equivalent of 1.2 billion industry standard plastic bottles.
Greener packaging materials - Preserving resources and curbing plastic use
Green Seal requires packaging to be either source-reduced, recyclable, contain at least 25% percent post-consumer material, or be a refillable package with an effective take-back program. Additionally, we don’t allow secondary packaging unless the product is a concentrate – like a pod, for example. This means that the product can’t be packaged in a rigid plastic and then again in a cardboard box. We also verify that packaging is not produced with hazardous toxins such as phthalates, BPA, and heavy metals. Materials that contain fewer hazardous chemicals can be re-processed and recycled more easily.
Product functional performance: preventing wasted resources
Many of us have surely purchased a product, tried it out, and sadly tossed it in the trash after one or two disappointing experiences. It didn’t remove a stain, the odor from your sneakers was not hidden under the stench of the fragrance, or the paint required five applications before it looked consistent on your wall. Green Seal sets performance requirements to make sure that the products we certify work effectively, meaning they work according to a standardized test or work as well as a market-leading or nationally available product on the North American market.
Ensuring that certified products perform as well as or better than conventional alternatives avoids waste from discarded products that fail to meet consumer expectations.
For certain product types – such as paints — durability is a critical concern; a long-lasting product greatly reduces the environmental impact. For example, if you buy a paint product that lasts 2-3 years, you will end up using twice as many resources as if you had used a paint that lasts 5-7 years.
Impacts that Matter
Preventing and minimizing waste is a critical goal for shifting to a low impact economy – one in which we are healthier, our rivers and lakes are cleaner, and our climate is preserved.
With improved product design, less shipping of water, greater use of recovered materials, and well-performing, long-lasting products, we can reduce the waste that is so costly to our society and ecosystems. Leading product manufacturers are doing the work: they’re shifting their supply chains and investing in greener technologies – and achieving recognition through Green Seal product certification. With the complexity of the market, the Green Seal Certification Mark provides clarity, signifying that a product meets a strong benchmark of health and environmental leadership — thereby making it simple for buyers to make the greener choice.