PUBLIC POV: How Major Brands are Waging the War on Plastic
For Earth Day, PUBLIC looks at how some brands are tackling this year’s theme: ending plastic pollution.
There’s no doubt that plastic is a useful material to create and package products. But, it’s not biodegradable, and it usually ends up being discarded immediately by the consumer. Still, over 300 million tonnes of plastic is manufactured each year, with over 90 per cent of that material going unrecycled.
So, where does all this plastic go?
The majority of it ends up at landfills, turning into toxic microplastics; and up to 12 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, destroying ecosystems and harming species.
In January, Coca-Cola pledged a “fundamental reshaping” of soda packaging that will involve collecting and recycling all Coca-Cola bottles by 2030, and a multi-year plan to make its packaging completely recyclable. Coca-Cola’s plastic waste strategy is an important example of brand activism, but it was also a necessary business move for the company to retain customers in the long-term.
At the launch of Coca-Cola’s strategy, president and CEO James Quincey expressed that delivering social impact is no longer optional, but a requirement to maintain a competitive edge. “Consumers around the world care about our planet, and they want and expect companies to take action,” Quincey explained.
Connecting with consumers is about more than traditional CSR initiatives, it’s about showing consumers how your company is using its talent, resources, and capital to deliver social impact. When companies (such as Coca-Cola) address societal needs, Edelman’s 2014 research shows a positive impact on business performance. The consumer’s likelihood to purchase the product bumps up 8 per cent; their likelihood to defend the company goes up 10 per cent; and they are more likely to recommend the brand to others.
Given Coca-Cola’s recent commitment to collect and recycle packaging, it’s fitting that 2018’s Earth Day theme is “Putting an End to Plastic Pollution”. In honour of Earth Day (April 22), here is PUBLIC’s roundup of a few other companies addressing the plastic crisis in a strategic way.
Nestlé and Danone
Nestlé and Danone partnered up in 2017 to develop plastic made from sawdust and repurposed cardboard, rather than petroleum. While the strategy to work together is commendable, some observers argue that there is a risk of creating “false solutions” by developing new plastics. In other words: it’s just creating another material that doesn’t decompose in an environmentally-friendly way.
The head of research and development at Nestlé Waters argues that the goal of a sawdust plastic isn’t to ensure complete biodegradability, but to significantly reduce the amount of carbon emitted during the plastics manufacturing process.
Pepsi Co. has launched several initiatives over the years that aim to reduce plastic use and even replace petroleum-based plastic. In 2011, PepsiCo. introduced a plant-based bottle made from switchgrass, corn husks, and pine bark. The bottle even looks and feels like a petroleum-produced plastic bottle.
Coke and Pepsi are in a race to be the first company with a 100 per cent plant-based bottle on the market. While Pepsi was first to create an entirely plant-based bottle, Coke delivered a bottle to market that is made up of 30 per cent plant-based materials.
While some of the beverage companies have focused on replacing petroleum-based plastic, Dell’s strategy is to source its packaging material from plastic that ends up in our oceans. In April of last year, the tech company launched its first roll-out of recyclable laptop trays, made with 25 per cent ocean-sourced plastic.
The manufacturing process starts with a waste cleanup company sourcing plastic from waterways, beaches and shorelines. Dell then cleans the material and mixes it with bottle and food storage plastics. Dell is currently on track to use 16,000 pounds of ocean plastic this year.
Dell also partnered with ocean advocacy foundation the Lonely Whale to form NextWave, an open source project aimed at getting other brands to integrate ocean-bound plastics into their products, too. General Motors is one of many companies teaming up with Dell and Lonely Whale to scale up their use of ocean-bound plastics. Dell’s long-standing commitment to environmental issues and open source approach has made it a sustainability leader. This type of industry leadership is good for the environment, and stands to improve Dell’s bottom line.
Adidas is also using plastics recovered from the ocean in its production. However, instead of integrating the material into packaging, Adidas is blending ocean plastics into fabric. The sportswear brand worked with ocean protection organization Parley for the Oceans to create soccer jerseys and running shoes made with plastic recovered from the ocean. In honour of Earth Day weekend, 23 MLS teams will be sporting Adidas wear made from Parley plastics.
In 2017 alone, Adidas sold 1 million shoes made out of ocean plastic, and expects continued growth this year, as well. Each pair of shoes recycles 11 plastic bottles, and integrates the recovered plastic into the laces, heel webbing, heel lining and sock liner covers. Now, that’s what we here at PUBLIC call profit with purpose!