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Sustainable Brand Communications // April 5th, 2021

Sustainable Plastic Alternative Still Needed Despite Industry Claims

Written by Jen Maxwell-Muir

Remember the ads from the late 90s? The dramatic image of the soda bottle bouncing in the aisle, emerging unphased? Toddlers being protected from opening dangerous medicines? The narrator telling us to be grateful for all the things “Plastics Make Possible?” Turns out the campaign to “bring us into the future,” funded by the American Plastics Council, was highly successful on the collection front. The problem is, the industry didn’t – and still doesn’t – really have a way to deliver on their promise.

While lobbyists and special interest groups spent millions convincing us that plastics could save us from our own uncivilized past, one key fact was left out of the conversation: Every plastic item ever created would stay on this planet for generations to come. The sobering reality is that only 9% of the plastics ever made are recycled. Even then—the containers for products like conveniently packaged plastic water bottles, unbreakable plastic shampoo bottles and all those tubs of pre-shredded parmesan cheese—can only be recycled twice before becoming destined for the landfill.

There are lots of biodegradable plant-based plastic options hitting the market. Let’s just switch to those. Unfortunately, given the way modern landfills are managed, even “biodegradable” options will essentially live on in eternity, starved of the sunlight and oxygen they require to break down, buried under thick layers of trash in our industrial landfills, or bobbing in our waterways and the bellies of endangered species. While a handful of U.S. cities do have industrial composting facilities, the majority of these “biodegradable” options end up in garbage bins.

And although behemoth brands like Coca Cola refuse to take leadership positions in addressing the plastic pandemic, there are a handful of brands on our radar:

  • ReadyCycle – this disruptive company is challenging the status quo with fully recyclable (cardboard) packaging solutions for fresh produce and take-out. Better yet, food-soiled containers that can’t be recycled are made from cardboard, meaning they are fully compostable (and break down quickly), even in at-home compost bins.
  • Woken Coffee – I’m a coffee fanatic, and one of the hardest parts of my zero-waste journey was giving up my afternoon Nespresso routine. Enter Woken – they make great-tasting coffee (legitimately great – not “great considering…”) in fully compostable pods (again, in at-home bins, or industrial composting facilities).
  • NoIssueCo. – makes sustainable shipping materials ranging from (at-home) compostable shipping bags to recyclable tissue, stickers, paper tape and more.

We recognize plastic alternatives come with a cost not everyone can afford. But if marketing can encourage a whole nation to recycle plastic when for the most part it’s not actually recyclable, imagine what it can do to with the latest innovation?

As others have said, we don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing zero waste imperfectly.

How are you, collectively—imperfectly—making an impact?