Green disposal claims in advertising

In 2021 the ASA’s Climate Change and the Environment project announced that it would be starting proactive enquiries into sectors and issues identified by the UKs Climate Change Committee as priority areas for carbon reduction and consumer behaviour change.

One of the areas identified was issues relating to green disposal of products, such as claims for recyclability, biodegradability or composability.

We are now in a position to outline our recent work to date on green disposal claims, including the main findings from qualitative consumer research on claims that we carried out in 2023, and our key recommendations for actions following our issues-led review of green disposal claims currently being made by advertisers.

Watch our "Greenspeaking with Confidence" event, or scroll down for key findings from our latest research. 

Key findings from the consumer research and issues-led review:

  • People are engaged with green disposal at home, usually in the form of regular recycling collections. They’re proud of their efforts and see waste management as a way of ‘doing their bit’ for the environment.  
  • Participants were most focused on how they dispose waste at home, and felt it was unfair to ask them to do more outside the home, such as taking recycling to specific drop-off points. 
  • Participants broadly treated green claims in ads uncritically. This uncritical acceptance risked consumers having an oversimplified understanding of the terms and how waste is disposed of. 
  • While people are likely to understand ‘recycling’ or ‘recycled’, they're much more confused about ‘compostable’. Participants were most unsure about the term ‘biodegradable’, and expressed anger and frustration when they learnt that this term could refer to an unlimited timescale and that some products can release toxins upon degrading. 
  • There were widespread calls for stronger transparency about the length of time a product that’s described as ‘biodegradable’ takes to degrade, as well as specific disposal risks.  
  • Participants also emphasised the importance of having clearer information on disposal of product parts, as well as where products need to be taken to be responsibly disposed.

Read our research into green disposal claims.

Following on from the research, this autumn the ASA conducted an issues-led review into the types of green disposal claims currently being made in advertising. We monitored hundreds of ads using a mixture of artificial intelligence and human inspection.

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