10 businesses tackling the plastic waste problem
Plastic is choking our planet. Inspired by Plastic Free July, we take a look at 10 businesses that are taking on this huge problem and turning it into a huge opportunity.
“There is a real problem when one year you can take your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you take that plastic bag home in your fish.”– Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, speaking at the EU’s Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference, March 2017.
One million plastic bottles around the world are consumed every minute. Over eight million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in our oceans every year, and, if things continue as they are, this figure is set to double by 2025. This means that the ocean will have more plastic (by weight) than fish by 2050. At least two thirds of the world’s fish stocks have ingested plastic.
Pho Quoc in Vietnam – photo courtesy of ClearlySo’s Simon Evill.
It is becoming near impossible to ignore: we have a huge problem with plastics, which is threatening our environment, our health, and our economy. But while the statistics surrounding our plastic consumption are terrifying, this monumental challenge also brings a wide arrange of opportunities…
The environment and the economy do not have to contradict one another. For example, each year $80 – 120 billion of plastic packaging material is lost to the economy due to its short first-use cycle, and this does not include additional costs of after-use ‘externalities’, such as plastic waste reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean. This is according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation industry report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics”, which calls for a new collaborative approach and action plan for industry, cities, governments and NGOs to improve the environmental and economic outcomes of the current plastics economy.
The New Plastics Economy is envisioned as one that captures the many ‘pockets of opportunities’ out there surrounding our plastic consumption and plastic waste management. In recognition of Plastic Free July, we’ve chosen 10 businesses that are changing our relationship with plastic.
MacRebur – tarmac made from waste plastics
The variety of plastic packaging that we use – from its compound type, colour, purity and level of contamination, composite materials and weight – means that it can be incredibly difficult to recycle. Just two months ago, the Recycling Association called out Pringles and Lucozade for being “recycling villains” due to their complicated (composite) packaging. Black plastic, as another example, often cannot be sorted by the sorting systems used in recycling, meaning it ends up in landfill.
Here are some companies finding their way around these challenges or helping others to do so.
TerraCycle have built their business by “recycling the unrecyclable”, becoming a global leader in hard-to-recycle waste. TerraCycle partners with brands, manufacturers and retailers to offer recycling programmes around the world – for example, TerraCycle has joined up with Garnier to offer a free recycling programme for all Garnier beauty product packaging.
Enval’s microwaved induced pyrolysis process (breaking down plastic using micro-waved induced heat) is the only method for recycling plastic aluminium laminates (aluminium foil sandwiched between plastic layers used in everyday packaging such as toothpaste and juices). Enval’s process can extract fragile aluminium foil without damaging it, and the plastic component degrades to form a mixture of hydrocarbons, which is separated into gas, which can be used to generate electricity, and oil, which can be sold as fuel or feedstock for speciality chemicals. This unique solution provides a sustainable and economically viable end-of-life solution for this kind of plastic packaging.
Clothing is a surprising contributor to plastic waste, as many clothes made with nylon and polyester contain tiny microfibres that get flushed into the ocean with every machine wash. When you then consider our addiction to fast fashion – in Britain alone we threw out a staggering million tonnes of clothes just last year – you’ll see which is why you’ll see this blog features several companies championing a more sustainable approach to fashion.
Worn Again started as an upcycling company focused on corporate textiles, turning old uniforms into airline seat covers and such, but now they have moved focus and are developing a ‘closed loop’ solution. Working across the global textile industry, with partnerships with brands like H&M and Puma, they aim to create a circular supply chain through new chemical textile and textile recycling technologies.
MacRebur have developed an enhanced asphalt solution for roads made from 100% waste materials, including unwanted plastics destined for landfill. Their product, MR6, is a conglomeration of carefully selected polymers, which can be used in the making of hot and warm mix asphalts to create a more cost effective and longer lasting asphalt solution.
Upcycling is the process of converting low-value materials that would otherwise be recycled or go to waste into different products or desirable materials. As a process (and a philosophy) and unlike recycling, it doesn’t require the complete breakdown of materials into their constituent parts, and so can be far more resource efficient.
Any parent will be familiar with the problem: the rate at which babies grow out of their clothes. It can be expensive, and a huge drain of resources. That is why Danish circular economy company Vigga developed a subscription service for baby clothes.
Parents pay a monthly subscription to get delivered organic children’s clothing – when the clothes no longer fit, you send them back and in return get some bigger sizes.
Founded in 2010, Isle of Wight-based Wyatt & Jack have spent the past seven years building a sustainable supply chain for their bags. With great creative flair, they re-purpose a wide range of materials that would otherwise end up in landfill, including these pretty nifty tote bags made out of recycled PVC from bouncy castles.
Ooho! ‘s “water bottle”
Arguably the best way to cure our plastic addiction is to get rid of it entirely. Or to be more specific, to use design principles and new packaging materials to design out plastic waste from our consumption of it as a useful material.
The following companies are highlighting the potential for a plastic-free future.
Skipping Rocks Lab is a sustainable packaging start-up in London and the creators of Ooho! – water in packaging you can eat. These shiny round globes are made of water in biodegradable packaging made from plants and seaweed. The packaging is edible, can be flavoured and coloured, and takes 5x less CO2 and 9x less energy than producing PET plastic bottles. Until their fully-automated production machine is up and running, Ooho! is currently only found at events, so keep your eyes out at any festivals you might attend, and watch this space…
Snact, a former ClearlySo client, is tackling food waste by taking fruit and veg that is too “ugly” for the supermarkets and turning it into delicious fruit jerky snacks. Their commitment to sustainability doesn’t stop there: they’ve partnered with TIPA to provide 100% compostable packaging – at no extra cost to the customer.
The clue is really in the name with this one – Unpackaged is a concept store based in Muswell Hill where consumers can buy loose goods without any packaging. The concept is simple: bring an empty food container from home, tare it on a scale, fill it with as much as you like of a certain produce, and then pay by weight.
Houdini collect worn-out clothes to recycle into new garments, sell second-hand versions of their gear, and are shifting towards an access model through clothing rental rather than ownership. But most interestingly, they have also developed high quality items made entirely out of organic and biologically decomposable materials, and earlier this year they held a dinner made from food grown in their clothing.
Thanks to recent campaigns, such as Plastic Free July, and government policies such as the UK’s 5p plastic bag tax, there is more awareness than ever about plastic waste. The growing demand for companies, products and services that are tackling this problem presents an exciting opportunity for both businesses and investors. My Ecoffee cup 🙂
Finally, here are some extra, easy tips for avoiding plastic:
Reusable coffee cups. Every year over 100 billion disposable coffee cups go to landfill! Ecoffee Cup are one example, and what’s more they’re made out of bamboo – the world’s fastest growing and most sustainable crop.
Reusable water bottles. At ClearlySo, we all use bottles courtesy of Give Me Tap.
Use bars of soap, shampoo and conditioner. Lush have a good range of plastic free products.
Biodegradable coffee pods. Another one for coffee lovers – Halo pods make compostable capsules.
Buy in bulk. Buy your soap in bulk and reuse the bottles – in the ClearlySo office we use The Soap Co.
Bring your own plates, cutlery etc. We’re lucky to have some great market stalls around our office, so have started taking along our own bowls etc. instead of using their plastic containers.
Did you enjoy this blog? Get all our content, plus all the latest news from the world of impact investing by signing up to our newsletter here.
Blogs like this
ClearlySo Responsible Consumerism team’s shortlist of impactful food and drink brands to enjoy during the festive period and beyond!