Forget diamonds—most plastics are forever. They coagulate into great floating “garbage patches” that cover large swaths of the Pacific. Plastic-filled waves crash against remote islands and urban beaches, leaving behind 30-ton garbage carpets. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Twenty-six million tons of plastic is broken down by sunlight and wave action into rice-sized bits called microplastics, turning the world’s oceans into what scientists call a “plastic soup”. It’s wound up in the stomachs of more than 700 marine species. Nearly 90 percent of seabirds also have plastic in their stomachs; half had dust-sized microplastics—and most were blue, although, some were black or red—in their droppings. “That means that for birds that are colonial, that hang out by the tens of thousands, there is a potential for that poop to make a difference” to our ecosystems.
“Let’s face it – plastic is here to stay. It’s the most functional material we’ve ever come up with,” says Dr. John Williams, a UK sustainable plastics expert. “We depend upon plastics to such an extent that we would literally struggle to live without them. We need to start thinking about what kind of plastics we have to adopt in order to allow better recyclability and recoverability.” Here are five companies that are pushing against plastic.
Don’t be so clingy. Plastic wrap has been linked to breast and prostate cancers, early female sexual development, birth defects, and kidney damage. While it’s resistant to oils, chemicals, heat, and weathering, it’s not biodegradable. Since you can’t recycle this stretchy plastic, it’s headed straight for the landfill, where it’ll take at least 25 years to break down.
That’s why Toni Desrosiers, the founder of Abeego, invented a washable beeswax wrap that protects food like a natural peel or rind. “Each ingredient had to be all natural and in its natural state. Everything had to be edible, have natural preservative qualities, and be approved by the FDA for food contact,” says Desrosiers. Because the average household chucks 1 in 4 produce items into the trash, Abeego keeps food alive. “Meals are the moments you’re nourished and connected to food in a lively, present, or conscious manner. They fill us for a little while, but these warm, fuzzy moments satiate for years.”
A million plastic bottles are sold around the world every minute and that number will leap another 20% over the next three years. Commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate, plastic bottles are highly recyclable but can take up to 400 years to decompose.
That’s why Coca-Cola is spending its green to go greener. The beverage behemoth only uses about 10 percent recycled plastic, but by 2020, it plans to use 30 percent recycled materials as part of a longer-term goal to use 100% recycled plastic. Pouring $60 million into its first comprehensive U.S. environmental program, Coca-Cola will open a 30-acre recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina—where it’ll produce 100 million pounds of recycled plastic or the equivalent of 2 billion, 20-ounce bottles annually. The company is also trying to raise recycling-awareness with its “Drink2Wear” fashion line of half-cotton, half-plastic tees that feature playful slogans such as “Make Your Plastic Fantastic” and “Rehash Your Trash.”
“In the U.S., we use 500 million straws a day,” says Jackie Nunez, the founder of The Last Plastic Straw. “That’s enough straw waste to wrap the circumference of the earth 2.5 times or to fill Yankee Stadium over 9 times in a year.”
As part of Ikea’s campaign to tackle pollution for profit, it’s swearing off plastic bags, straws, and other single-use plastics like plates, cups, freezer bags, and garbage bags to become “people and planet-positive” by 2030. The Swedish megastore also plans to achieve zero-emissions for home deliveries by 2025 and will continue to increase vegan foods in its stores—which sell a billion Swedish meatballs every year. “Through our size and reach, we’ve got the opportunity to inspire and enable more than one billion people to live better lives within the limits of the planet,” says Torbjörn Lööf, Inter Ikea Group’s CEO.
The problem with most beauty products is that they’re made of blended materials that can’t be easily recycled. They’re also basically impossible to reclaim if there’s any leftover product in the container. “Many companies also over-package their products to make them look bigger, or feel more full than they are,” says Marcia Kilgore, the founder of Soaper Duper. “You can actually find very slim ‘weights’ in many packages, giving the illusion of quality when really the weight is just one more thing being thrown into the landfill when the product is used up.”
Soaper Doaper’s eco-pop bubble bottles with earth-friendly fillings are nasty-free and don’t cost the earth. They’re made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics—largely derived from semi-skimmed milk bottles that give the plastic its natural green tint. “We’re delighted that we’ve saved 2.8 tons of plastic in our first year,” Kilgore says.
“Most plastic straws are too lightweight to make it through mechanical recycling sorters, so they end up in landfills and waterways and, eventually, our oceans,” says Dune Ives, the executive director of Lonely Whale. “A straw may be small, but it’s the DNA of carelessness and it just might be a gateway [plastic],” says actor Adrian Grenier of the non-profit Strawless Ocean. That’s why global coffee giant Starbucks “is finally drawing a line in the sand and creating a mold for other large brands to follow.”
By 2020, it’ll say goodbye to its signature green plastic straws. They’ll be replaced by cold-cup lids that have teardrop-shaped openings about the size of a thumbprint—dubbed “adult sippy cups” by the Internet. A cleaner, less-ridged version of the hot cup lid, they’ll become the standard lid for all iced drinks except Frappuccinos, which will be served with a straw that’s made of compostable plastic, paper, bamboo, steel, or glass.
Featured image: Pixabay