The Guardian Greenwashes for Procter & Gamble, Won’t Publish Truth

April 10, 2013

Recently over at The Guardian, a story on Procter & Gamble facilities achieving “zero waste” was published with much fanfare. I say bollocks. Here’s why.

Procter & Gamble manufacture many of the world’s most popular personal care and household products: Crest, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Pantene, and Tampax, to name a few. They are also the manufacturer of Gillette razors, both the “refillable” kind and the single-use disposable version. The company’s Gillette factory – the World Shaving Headquarters – located in Boston, Massachusetts, was one of the sites in The Guardian story that had recently achieved zero waste status. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, “Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.”

“…designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials,”

This part of the Alliance’s statement is of special note. If Zero Waste is to mean that a company manages their product to avoid and eliminate waste, wouldn’t one think that said company would thereby not be contributing to the massive amount of waste and trash sent to landfills each and every day around the globe?

Some of P&G products are not only full of toxic chemicals but a few of them are actually designed and made to be thrown away after a single use. P&G’s disposable plastic razors, manufactured by a unit of the company with a facility that has achieved zero waste, accounts for billions upon billions of pieces of plastic that will sit in landfills for the next 1,000 years.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, around 2 billion disposable razors are tossed into the trash each year – in the U.S. alone. How many get tossed worldwide and how is that zero waste?

Sure, some of P&G’s facilities have cubicles where employees have given up individual trash bins in favor of a centralized waste station, as mentioned in The Guardian’s article. And some of the lunch leftovers are composted on-site. But while they have cleaned up their act on the work floor, and made sure to send out press releases heralding this fact, their actions outside the manufacturing plant tell a different story. The company is still profiting from manufacturing tons and tons of plastic waste and toxic products for the world to clean up.

There are 4.6 billion people around the world using P&G products; the amount of waste coming from that use trumps taking away individual trash cans and composting food scraps at a few facilities. Let’s call a spade a spade – this is greenwashing. Instead of taking on the change and evolution of their actual products, P&G has taken the easy way out and called it a day with a press release and some news coverage.

I offered The Guardian this here article for publication on their site but was told by their editor that…

Balance is key our site, which is why I asked you to write the piece. But we are also a solutions oriented site. I share your frustrations with large companies and would much prefer that P&G would stop selling hundreds of millions of wasteful items & creating desires and ‘needs’ for things we don’t need. The reality is that they won’t. They are locked into a system which they are neither prepared nor in a position to break.

So basically, because The Guardian believes companies will never change, they won’t run an article pointing out how wasteful disposable razors are… even after they themselves published a piece praising P&G for putting trash cans in central locations on campus. Balanced? I think not.

We deserve and can do better, we just have to demand it. And we have to hold these media organizations to higher standards rather than just allowing them to greenwash us all.

Paint roller leaving stroke of green paint over a white background image from BigStock

Filed in: Greenwash • Tags: , , ,

About the Author:

After a varied past of being a test driver for automotive television programs, a Hollywood studio lackey, and an online media sales director, David is now the publisher and editor of The Good Human. In his spare time he rides motorcycles, drinks good beer, and builds stuff in the garage. You can follow him on Twitter at @thegoodhuman or G+ at Google
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Comments (4)

  1. Very well said! We at Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (“Zero Waste Central”) have received tons of P&G’s press releases about this; but have refused to promote them. This article says it all. Also note that P&G claims to be “zero manufacturing waste to landfill.” … that means they likely incinerate what can’t be recycled or composted or reused. “Zero waste to landfill” is a different animal than “Zero Waste.” Incineration does not fall under the purview of zero waste. Thank you for this excellent analysis.

  2. Linda says:

    It’s kind of a catch 22. I agree touting zero waste while making throw away products doesn’t wash. However, perhaps there is some value in moving the needle, especially if it leads to greater change in the future.

  3. Claire says:

    Thanks for this article, especially for including the note from the Guardian editor.

    I was curious about PG’s long-term goals.

    Here’s what I found on their website:

    [By 2020], Replace 25 percent of petroleum-based raw materials with sustainably sourced renewable materials for our products and packaging.(compared to 2010 baseline)

    [By 2020] Conduct pilot studies in both developed and developing markets to understand how to eliminate landfilled/dumped consumer solid waste.

    Are these goals good-enough? Or are they just less-bad? What if the price for disposable plastic razors included the environmental costs of taking up landfill space or incinerator costs?

    At what point does it make the best,*long-term* sense to say, “These products are too expensive to make, in the long-term, for all our future customers to come. And too expensive to make in terms of manufacturing them from petrochemicals. So we will not make them anymore.

    I know that P&G does a lot of good and makes a lot of good product. I’m not picking on P&G. I’m asking these questions in the larger context of finite global resources and space.

    The world won’t end because of plastic razors. It’s just one part of a larger conversation.

    Cheers.