If this coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything (beyond how to use Zoom, sew a face mask and bake bread), it’s that the stuff we routinely take for granted could end up having a profound effect on our future.
Case in point: the abundance of plastic in our lives — whether a plastic shopping bag or toilet-paper packaging — that’s often tossed without a second thought. As we order groceries and other goods for home delivery like never before, considering the need to buy products packaged in nonplastic, recyclable or reusable shipping materials is one way to honor Earth Day.
According to a global study conducted by the World Economic Forum, there are 78 million tons of plastic packaging waste produced each year and 32% of that ends up in our oceans. To visualize what that means, the forum suggests picturing dumping one trash-truck worth of plastic into the ocean every minute. The report estimates that if left unchecked, the steady stream of plastic packaging waste will grow to two trash-trucks’ worth per minute by 2030 — and four trucks’ worth by 2050.
Unless we change our habits, we’ll literally be swimming in plastic one day. Therefore, the message expressed in the 1971 book “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss makes sense today: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Fortunately, a growing number of manufacturers and retailers appear to care and are working to make changes in their product packaging. One example is Dell, the Austin, Texas-based computer company.
Oliver Campbell, Dell’s director of procurement and packaging engineering, has been pioneering sustainable packaging and shipping solutions for the computer maker for 12 years. “On a planet with almost 8 billion people, heading to 10 billion,” said Campbell, “how we view packaging and materials in the circular economy is critical.”
Campbell’s team pivoted from plastic to develop and utilize materials such as bamboo, waste paper, inks made from soot, and recyclable plastics made from ocean-bound waste pulled from waterways and coastal areas.
“So many people have this notion that sustainability costs more,” he said, “and I think it can if it’s done poorly. But like many other things, if it’s done well, it will actually cost less.
“It makes it easier for customers to be a part of turning off the tap on ocean plastic,” said Campbell, who reports that Dell has set a goal for 2030 that 100% of all packaging will be made from recyclable or renewable materials. “We’re about 85% of the way there,” he said. “The customers really like it, and I also get to be a hero to my kids — which to me is equally as important.”
Here are companies and brands that are scaling back or going plastic-free with their packaging.
Reusable, refillable glass food jars from Methodology, a Southern California-based weekly meal delivery service, are swaddled in recycled craft paper and nestled inside a recyclable cardboard box between reusable ice packs and compostable insulated liners that dissolve in water. gomethodology.com
Online retailer Wild Minimalist packages sustainable products inside recyclable cardboard boxes with biodegradable shipping peanuts (for glass items) or recyclable/compostable wrapping materials. Then the boxes are sealed with compostable paper packaging tape. (Note: For efficient composting, cut tape and paper into smaller pieces.) wildminimalist.com
The 100% biodegradable Recool cooler from Igloo is wrapped in a piece of recycled craft paper and shipped in a recyclable box. (Through May 1, 100% of profits from Igloo’s Playmate Coolers sold on igloocoolers.com are being donated to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund.) $9.99 for a 16-quart Recool cooler, available at igloocoolers.com.
Tree-free three-ply toilet paper rolls made from bamboo or 100% recycled paper from Who Gives a Crap are packaged in whimsical, colored paper and shipped in a recyclable cardboard box. (According to the company’s website, products are sold out because of high demand during the coronavirus crisis. Getting on the brand’s waitlist for goods is highly recommended.) us.whogivesacrap.org
Lauren Singer, founder of PackageFreeShop.com and creator of the editorial platform Trash is for Tossers, operates her online zero-waste store with a strict packaging policy that eliminates plastic and non-recyclable materials. There’s also a loud-and-clear message printed on its boxes. The site carries household goods including body wash, hair-care kits and reusable dishcloths. packagefreeshop.com
By eliminating foam padding and single-use plastic, Dell earned a 2018 CES Innovation Award and qualified for an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool Silver Certification for its XPS 13 laptop packaging. The packaging features a molded tray made from recycled ocean-bound plastics (25%) and locally recycled plastic; unwrapped drop-in-the-box accessories (no plastic baggies); and a gift-box style package made from sustainably sourced materials. The outer shipping box is 100% recyclable cardboard corrugate. dell.com