Greenwashing in the packaging industry: how to avoid it

The regulatory sphere is heating up. With the surging demand for sustainable packaging, many businesses are quick to flaunt their (sometimes non-existent) environmental credentials. Greenwashing, the act of claiming that your product or business is better or less harmful to the environment than it actually is, has become all too common in the marketplace. As businesses scramble to meet ESG targets and outpace competitors, too many let their communications slip. In fact, an internet sweep carried out by The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in 2022 revealed that 57% of businesses reviewed were making potentially misleading environmental claims. The ACCC went on to produce a draft guidance in July 2023, in which they outlined the key principles for trustworthy environmental statements. This article is grounded in that very guidance. My hope is that it can empower and support your decision-making in the transition to sustainable packaging.

Look for accuracy and honesty

When choosing a sustainable packaging solution, consider the context in which claims are made. Facts must not only be correct but they must also represent the genuine reality of the product’s environmental impact.  For example, a statement that a shipping carton is made from recycled plastic may be factually correct, but if only 10% is made from recycled plastic, then this claim is misleading and could cause you to make a poorly informed decision. In a similar vein, if a company states that its product will help you achieve ESG targets because it ‘embraces the circular economy’, but it does not provide accurate information as to how it does so, approach it with scepticism. In this particular case, look at the individual materials that make up the product, as well as their end-of-life and the implications for the environment.

To avoid falling into this greenwashing trap, always look for precise and specific information. A great example of this is provided by the packaging company Ananas Anam. In their Impact Report 2022, they clearly outline the specific benefits of embracing their pineapple leaf fibre solution, using data and statistics to verify their claims.

Impact Report of Ananas Anam
Ananas Anam Impact Report 2022

Demand evidence

Looking at reports and data is a normal part of the transition to a sustainable packaging solution. What is not normal is when this evidence is difficult to find. The ACCC’s draft guidance clearly explains that all claims should be verifiable and that the data that supports these claims should be made accessible by the company. Planet Protector Packaging, for example, provides a wool-insulated packaging solution for cold-chain transportation which repeatedly outperforms polystyrene and all other insulated thermal solutions. We don’t pull these claims out of thin air, we conduct rigorous testing to industry standards in our environmental testing chamber, and these claims are then supported by independent trials. The results verify our claims that WOOLPACK is the best and most effective natural insulator. The draft guidance advises that when considering different types of evidence, look for studies that are widely accepted, peer-reviewed, or subject to independent scrutiny.

Cold chain qualifications performed on Planet Protector Packaging’s standard pharma range
Cold chain qualifications performed on Planet Protector Packaging’s standard pharma range in Australian ambient conditions

In addition to looking at the evidence, make sure to analyse the carbon footprint of the packaging product and the emissions targets of the company that provides it. Mandatory Climate Reporting is coming, and businesses know that they must commit to emissions targets imminently. In light of this, be wary of aspirational climate targets that don’t have tangible plans or financing to support them. Indeed, even companies like gas giant Santos have claimed to have “credible and clear plans” to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2040. Santos was, in fact, sued by the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) for these claims, on the grounds that it plans to scale its operations, and therefore increase its greenhouse gas emissions, without actually having confirmed whether it would proceed with its net-zero plans. These very plans were feeble and depended upon the improbable idea of carbon capture at scale, a process that is extremely expensive and unreliable. Essentially, Santos was misleading its shareholders. With this in mind, be certain that you’re not being led astray by grandiose goals. Ambitious targets are necessary and important but are only effective when there are formal plans in place to achieve them.

Green paintbrush brushing over a factory
Ivan Mark/Shutterstock

Check what isn’t being said

As well as analysing the credibility of what is being said, keep an eye out for what companies choose to omit from the narrative. Let’s use the example of polystyrene, a non-biodegradable, toxic material made from non-renewable fossil fuels that has come under fire in recent years for its devastating effects on ecosystems. It breaks down into microbeads, moves up the food chain, and disrupts habitats. Yet, producers of polystyrene like to claim that their products are recyclable. This is only true if you have a machine for it. The reality in Australia is that for polystyrene to be recycled, it must be taken to an industrial processing facility, which is unlikely to occur in day-to-day use. Having worked with a meal-kit provider that used polystyrene boxes in the past, I can confirm that consumers are not able to recycle this insidious material. Consequently, it litters the streets, enters our waterways, and poses risks to wildlife. Therefore it is highly misleading to advertise a polystyrene-based product as ‘recyclable’, even if it has been certified as industrially recyclable. Small nuances like this are easily overlooked and result in a multitude of negative effects: businesses that actually make investments in more sustainable products are put at a disadvantage, and consumers’ trust in environmental claims is undermined, which could eventually cause complete desensitisation to these pressing matters.


Capitalising off of consumers’ growing concern for sustainability isn’t just poor business ethics, it also prevents us from solving our ecological crisis. As long as companies continue to greenwash, we will become more and more numb to the urgent environmental issues that threaten our very existence. Thankfully, resources like the draft guidance discussed in this article are emerging to help both businesses and stakeholders become more aware of these traps.

What steps do you take to ensure the environmental claims of a packaging product are authentic?