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The rise of the ‘eco’ label – Are Aldi’s ‘sustainable’ special buys as green as they seem?

I started Tribe Zero-Waste to help more people make sustainable choices and so when some of the mainstream shops say they’re stocking more eco-friendly products, that’s got to be a good thing – right? 

But when someone shared this week’s Aldi special buys, billed as being ‘sustainable living’ items, I groaned. And it seems I’ve been doing that a fair amount recently as a deluge of advertising using words like ‘green’ and ‘eco’ seems to have hit my TV.  

Aldi website showing their special buys

Just last night I watched as a serious of short clips of people working on ocean clean-up and conservation projects flashed up before me; people freeing turtles, admiring the colour of the sea and all working together to ave the oceans. Right at the end of the ad they all sat down and shared an Estrella. It turns out this wasn’t an ad promoting beach clean-ups, it was an advert for beer. It feels to me that by merely associating with these projects Estrella hoping to gain some ‘green’ credentials.  As I ranted at the TV my other half said I should stop ranting and write about it instead, so when I saw the Aldi special buys today I thought I’d better take his advice and save his ears. 

The first thing that struck me with Aldi’s special buys this week is that they are selling ‘eco-friendly’ produce bags. What’s fab is that they’re 100% organic cotton, which means the cotton is grown without chemical pesticides or harmful fertilisers and means it is biodegradable. What is laughable is that I can count on one hand the amount of fresh produce my local Aldi sells loose that I would need this bag for! I would love if the selling of this bag actually coincided with them selling more loose fruit and veg! I think, much like the Estrella ad, they’re hoping just by stocking this item they appear to be more green. 

Hands with a reusable coffee cup

Then we have the ‘bamboo’ trays and dinnerware. Bamboo is a fab product, it grows fast, has no need for pesticides and is super strong. But, to make it into cups and dinnerware it must be mixed with a resin, which is usually melamine, a type of plastic which will not degrade with the rest of the cup. There are also concerns around the toxicity of melamine when it comes into contact with hot acidic liquids like coffee. To find this out you really have to know what to look for and all you usually see on the labels is that it’s a ‘bamboo’ cup. 

In a recent report by Ethical Consumer magazine Aldi was among the top plastic waste producers, accounting for around 10,000 tonnes per one percent market share, the bulk emanating from its own-brand goods. Overall Ethical Consumer magazine gave it an Ethiscore of 3.5 / 20 . A score which takes into account the supermarket’s environmental policies and practices, its treatment of workers, its sourcing policies, politics and animal rights among many things. 

Everyone has to start somewhere and perhaps this is the first step of many for Aldi – it does look like they are trialling a refill station at one of their stores. So good on them for trying and good on anyone who buys a bamboo cup and starts refilling. But I know all too well that trying to do the best for the planet is a continuous journey and there’s no quick fix. Selling a few bamboo cups does not mean the job is done and can’t mask the fact the rest of the products in store are swimming in plastic. 

So next time you see a company throwing around vague green claims remember to take them with a pinch of organic, ethically sourced salt! 

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