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To Cut Plastic Waste, Entrepreneurs Are Thinking Small

Sustainability News
by Tim Wenger Jul 31, 2020

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

This week we look at sustainable alternatives to plastics and other disposable travel gear. Single-use plastic use is up during the coronavirus pandemic as businesses and citizens try to minimize physical contact with each other. But sentiment about single-use plastics continues to sour. In January, IBM and the National Retail Federation released data from a study showing that 69 percent of consumers in the United States and Canada prefer to buy products from brands viewed as sustainable. A third of those surveyed said they would stop buying a product if they viewed the producer as not in line with their belief system, and the same number stopped buying from at least one of their favorite brands in 2019 for the same reason.

The American Marketing Association echoed the sentiment with study results showing that “mass media — through coverage of climate change or global warming — helps the generation and enforcement of a social norm regarding desirable socially conscious behavior.”

In other words, the public knows it wants to buy green — and businesses need to listen if they want its money. The “win” here is that across many industries, entrepreneurs and established businesses are listening, especially when it comes to single-use plastics. Even as the pandemic has stifled many efforts to curb these disposables, many businesses continue to move ahead with them in their long-term planning.

For travelers considering a summer road trip or post-pandemic vacation, one thing is clear — buying eco-friendly travel products has never been easier. Both established and upstart product concepts are helping us change not just the way we travel, but what we bring along with us. EarthSuds is one such company, tackling head-on the issue of travel-friendly shampoo and conditioner. The brand produces tablets of dry shampoo, conditioner, and even body soap, sold in recyclable boxes. The user crushes the tablet in their hand, adds water, and applies, eliminating bottles that, even when marked as recyclable, typically aren’t. “[The bottles] are filtered out at recycling facilities because the bottles are too small, have a low-quality grade of plastic, and are often still contaminated with soap,” the company says on its website. Its tablets were originally found only in hotels, but are now available for direct sale due to customer demand.

Travel brands like EarthSuds that start with a mindset of sustainability should absolutely be applauded. But equally deserving of recognition are those that audit and call out detrimental facets of their own supply chain. United By Blue did just that. The 10-year-old clothing and travel products brand built its reputation on being green; it hosted beach clean-ups, produced clothes made of organic materials, and sold its popular line of soaps in a recyclable cardboard container.

But then the brand conducted an audit of its system, with a heavy focus on plastics. The company did an internal review and publicly pledged to quit single-use plastics for good.

“When it became clear to us that, although we have been actively cleaning up our world’s oceans and waterways for 10 years via our cleanups, our supply chain was also contributing to the problem in the first place by using unnecessary plastics,” founder Brian Linton said to Matador Network. “We conducted our plastic audit in 2019 by reviewing all sources of plastics in all stages of our supply chain and performing a review process that quantified the outputs. We then began working closely with our suppliers and service providers to remove all single use plastics.”

Following the review, the company stopped using plastic polybags to wrap its products, swapping them out for “a paper sleeve held tight by a sticker,” Linton says. “This same process has been repeated with our all vendors, and hence we have been able to drastically reduce our plastic consumption in less than a year.”

This is a win for the company as well as a win for big-picture business thinking — even in the year of takeout dining.

More Climate Wins

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week that the UK will build thousands of miles of curb-protected bicycle lanes that will “kick off the most radical change to our cities since the arrival of mass motoring,” as he was quoted in Forbes. The plan aims to build on London’s curb-protected cycleways and will include cycling training, bicycle “prescriptions” from the country’s health service, and major overhauls to the country’s Highway Code.

The newly-minted permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund could lead to consistent protections for large swaths of land in the US, the Colorado Sun reported this week. Using the recent protection of 10 ranches along the Navajo River Watershed in southern Colorado — an effort 30 years in the making — conservationists are optimistic that the importance of waterways and their surrounding watersheds can be legally emphasized to create protected spaces.

Greta Thunberg has been busy during the pandemic. The Swedish climate activist was awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity for her efforts to spur action to combat global climate change. It comes with a one million euros ($1.178 million) prize package, which Thunberg will donate to organizations working to further her cause.

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