A New Perspective – Brands Reversing the Plastic Problem
The History and Future of Plastics
What Are Plastics, and Where Do They Come From?
Plastic is a word that originally meant “pliable and easily shaped.” It only recently became a name for a category of materials called polymers. The word polymer means “of many parts,” and polymers are made of long chains of molecules. Polymers abound in nature. Cellulose, the material that makes up the cell walls of plants, is a very common natural polymer.
Over the last century and a half humans have learned how to make synthetic polymers, sometimes using natural substances like cellulose, but more often using the plentiful carbon atoms provided by petroleum and other fossil fuels. Synthetic polymers are made up of long chains of atoms, arranged in repeating units, often much longer than those found in nature. It is the length of these chains, and the patterns in which they are arrayed, that make polymers strong, lightweight, and flexible. In other words, it’s what makes them so plastic.
These properties make synthetic polymers exceptionally useful, and since we learned how to create and manipulate them, polymers have become an essential part of our lives. Especially over the last 50 years plastics have saturated our world and changed the way that we live.
The development of plastics started with the use of natural materials that had intrinsic plastic properties, such as shellac and chewing gum. … A key breakthrough came in 1907, when Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland created Bakelite, the first real synthetic, mass-produced plastic. This was crucial for the ability to carry water in mass quantities, and many other core products valuable to human civilization. As the world population bloomed, plastic became more of a pollutant to the oceans, and natural habitats of the earth. With the emergence of so many cool new technologies, big brands like Pepsi are spearheading new initiatives to reverse the plastic problem.
The problem with plastic has reached a tipping point in its environmental impact. According to a study conducted by a group of scientists at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), every year eight million metric tons of plastic accumulate in our oceans.
While plastic is a global problem, it’s also a global opportunity. Brands now are adopting more social responsibility. With their ability to reach consumers comes the responsibility to influence consumer behaviour. More people are becoming aware of their environmental footprint, and realize every choice matters. But behavioural change is difficult, so how are global brands tackling this problem? Society is changing, and so are purchasing decisions, when presented with alternative options. There is growing support from consumers for purpose driven businesses. This holds true according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where humans seek to make a contribution, no matter how small.
PepsiCo has recently launched their ‘Beyond the Bottle’ campaign that includes a variety of environmental initiatives in their product delivery and consumer experience. One such product is the Hydration Platform, which is a connected ecosystem built to align with how people drink water today. It’s contains three different components: a hydration dispenser, a companion, an easy to use smartphone app and a personalized QR code sticker that allows consumers to refill their bottles that are recognized by the dispenser. What’s unique is that this ecosystem is tailored to each individual’s hydration goals and even select carbonation levels and flavours – all tracked on the app. Furthermore, it connects the user with the environment by demonstrating their environmental impact by showcasing the count of plastic bottles they saved with each pour. (PepsiCo Beyond the Bottle).
Drinkfinity is another PepsiCo line where offer a recyclable pod/ reusable vessel solution for beverages that contains 65% less plastic than 20 oz beverages. But PepsiCo does not stop there. The PepsiCo Foundation is also investing $10 million in union with The Recycling Partnership to launch All In On Recycling, which challenges the industry to raise $25 million for the purpose of transitioning 25 million families to effective recycling world wide. (The PepsiCo Foundation)
In the impoverished areas that are on the edge of Santiago, Chile, affordable food is not easily accessible. The few supermarkets that are available is often 40% more expensive. Algramo is a solution to that. This company distributes vending machines packed with bulk staples ranging from sugar, beans, and rice. These machines are installed for free in small neighbourhood stores, and splits the profit evenly with shop owners. Not only are they humanitarian, but also advocate for environmental responsibility. Algramo’s vehicles are app-powered, intelligent dispensing systems that use electric tricycles to deliver home care products to people’s homes in Chile. This allows consumers to purchase reusable containers for laundry and dish washing detergent, by creating an online account where they can arrange a free visit of an electric tricycle to their home, so the can refill their product containers and pay per weight.
In effort to reduce waste on flights, Alaska Airlines is now encouraging guests and flight attendants to #FillBeforeYouFly – a campaign reminding people to bring their own water bottle and fill it prior to boarding, in efforts to reduce the one time use of plastic. As an incentive, Alaska Airlines partnered with Bonneville Environmental Foundation so that a tree is planted for each passenger who brings their own water bottle on flight and post on social media with the hashtag #FillBeforeYouFly to encourage others to do the same. Their mission is to plant 1 million trees along the West Coast in effort to reduce green house gases in our atmosphere and restore the natural habitat for wildlife.
TerraCycle is a unified shopping platform known as the Loop, which sells products that have long lasting reusable packaging in efforts to replace one time use of disposable packaging. Shopping is made convenient, where consumers can buy all products online and have it delivered to their doorstep in a reusable tote. Once products are finished, the consumer is not hassled to return the packaging. Loop will come back for the product container, replenish the product and returns the refilled product back to the consumer’s home. Recycling has never been easier, a convenient solution for a global problem.
With top brands taking the lead in decreasing their environmental impact, the future is becoming more promising. We hope to see more brands spearheading for climate change solutions by conducting business responsibly.