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Can Plastic Be “Plastic-Free”? And Can Green Energy Come From Coal?

Climate misinformation is rampant. Learning how to spot it is the first step towards better legislation and a better future.

Written by:
Matthew Shribman

Have you ever seen this label…

…on packaging that appears to be made of plastic?

There’s a story here about deception, and how people are coming together to overcome it. But we’ll come back to that in a moment!

For now, there’s something very strange going on with the way that green energy is sold.

Did you know that when a site running solar panels or wind turbines sells electricity, they actually sell two things?

  1. The energy itself, and
  2. Certificates proving that the energy was generated sustainably.

The strange thing is that these two things can actually be bought and sold separately.

If you have a trustworthy green energy supplier (like Ecotricity or Good Energy for those of us in the UK), then they’ll buy the energy and the certificates together.

So far so good…

But what about the companies that don’t care about doing the right thing? Are there regulations to force them to buy the energy and certificates together?


It’s currently possible for a supposedly “green” hydrogen company in Texas to buy the cheapest energy possible (inevitably coal or another fossil fuel), and then to separately buy green energy certificates from solar panels in somewhere impossibly far away… like Greece.

This company can then claim that its hydrogen is “certified as green”, even though Greece and Texas don’t even have any connected electricity.

We now know that this supposedly “green” hydrogen is - on average - even dirtier than the fossil-gas-made hydrogen that it’s supposed to replace.

These kinds of loopholes (“so big you could steer an oil rig through them” as our friend Tzeporah Berman says) can only exist for as long as they remain unknown or misunderstood.

This is why learning is as vital as it’s ever been. It’s only through learning and understanding that can we can play our part in better steering the world towards a fairer, healthier, more nature-rich future.

Now, whilst many of us are allowed to vote every now and then, most of us don’t run governments or head out to the shops each weekend to buy a spot of hydrogen. So whilst there might not be too much we can do in our day-to-day lives to affect the regulation of “green” hydrogen, there’s still a great deal that we can do in other spaces where people are exploiting misunderstandings and loopholes.

And that brings us back to this label:

You might have been surprised to see this label on packaging that looks and feels surprisingly like plastic. If you tested it, you might have been even more surprised to learn that it is plastic.

We share a lot more knowledge about this stuff in our courses, but for now the bottom line is this: even if plastic is “made from plants”, it’s still plastic. It still causes havoc in rivers and oceans, and whilst it might sometimes be a little bit easier to break down than plastics made from crude oil, it’s still likely to be very problematic for a long list of reasons.

Yes, this label sometimes appears on things that really do have no plastic in them, but it’s no small wonder that the companies who’ve jumped aboard to pay to use it fastest are those using plastics made from plants.

Some of the team at AimHi Earth were involved in criticising this labelling and flagging how dangerous it is. It’s now being withdrawn, which is a big relief, but… it will still remain on food packaging for much of 2023.

And this is where we all come in. A whole generation is going to see this label, assume that “some plastic isn’t plastic” or that “plant-based plastic is always okay”, and will ultimately need to unlearn this.

We all have a very real and important job to do in helping others to understand that most of these plant-based plastics are still a problem, and that we should be minimising all single-use plastics as much as we possibly can, to protect our oceans and all of nature, so that nature can repair itself, and repair the damage we’ve done to our climate, ensuring a liveable future for our children and grandchildren.


If you’d like to follow the story of “green hydrogen”, and how it’s being solved, you might want to check out our friends at Energy Tag who are on the front lines of this work. They aren’t very communications-focused, and so their website can seem a bit inaccessible at first, but essentially, they’re working on ensuring that all energy use has to be certified hourly (in terms of how and where it’s generated). If they succeed, this will bring an end to the “creative accounting” loophole explained above.