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Innovation in plastic: How brands can create a more sustainable offering

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Innovation in plastic: How brands can create a more sustainable offering

In recent years, brands have taken a more considered approach as to how they can do more to explore Earth-friendly choices when it comes to the ways in which they produce, market and package their products. Statistics published in The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastic in 2016 from The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that every year, approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters our oceans and that if this continues, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. The time for business to invest in sustainable solutions and create innovation in plastic is now.

 

THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF PACKAGING

For many brands, packaging is the obvious place to start, with a plethora of thoughtful solutions having made their way into the mainstream. A huge amount of work has gone into widening the scope of packaging and not just in the way in which materials  are produced and compiled. Aside from innovation across physical products and their own packaging, brands are also looking at their delivery options; focusing in on how they choose to send out their products to customers.

Benedetti Life, who have been certified with the Butterfly Mark, has turned to sustainable packaging leader RePack to distribute it’s deliveries, ensuring that its brand message is emulated at every customer touch point. “Every returned RePack reduces waste and removes the need to manufacture a new single-use plastic bag or a cardboard box. It’s a simple solution to reduce waste as well as CO2 emissions” says Matea Benedetti, the brand’s founder.

Based on International Postal Company data, sending a letter has a carbon footprint of 37 grams of CO2 per shipment. Manufacturing a new cardboard box produces between 100 – 500g CO2 and one plastic bag between 100 – 200g CO2. RePacks design their packaging to last at least 20 cycles.

 

TEXTILE INNOVATION

Outside of packaging, brands across the fashion industry have found feasible ways to action their ethical message whilst maximising sustainability. There is constant innovation in the way plastics are recycled, repurposed and reused in the textile industry. One of the most well known suppliers is ECONYL® , a form of nylon, which is made from waste plastics found in landfill, and ocean waste. Similarly, REPREVE®, creates textiles from recycled plastic, and to date has recycled 20 billion plastic bottles reducing the need for petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.

Brands are also increasingly looking to the circular loop, utilising the plastic waste we already have in order to remould and reuse; fulfilling consumers’ desire for more products without compromising on sustainability.

In a report compiled from their own data, ECONYL states that for every 10,000 tonnes of ECONYL produced the supplier is able to save 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoid 57,100 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions. They also claim ECONYL regenerated nylon reduces the global warming impact of the material by 80%, in comparison with material made from oil. The circular notion of rescue-regenerate-remake-reimagine makes for a model that can help to close this loop.

From big-budget luxury brands to smaller start-ups, businesses are catching onto the positive impact of seeking out sustainable alternatives to stay ahead of ever-wise customers, who look to gain more in regards to lasting sustainability pledges from the brands that they shop with.

Fashion powerhouse Stella McCartney announced that by the end of 2020, its goal is to stop using virgin nylon. The brand has since swapped out all nylon across its collections to ECONYL regenerated nylon. Notably, its collection of Falabella GO bags are made with ECONYL yarn, and the brand is now lining them with ECONYL regenerated nylon too.

On a larger scale, Stella McCartney currently uses polyester made out of recycled plastic water bottles, but is actively looking to invest in solutions that allow it to recycle polyester fabrics back into fabrics, closing the loop further. It pledges that by 2025, the brand aims to only use recycled polyester as well as their nylon alternative.

 

A CIRCULAR REVOLUTION: WHAT’S NEXT FOR SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES?

Across the board, it seems that brands know it’s time to explore alternative solutions in order to meet the increasing accountability demanded by shoppers. But what more can be done by businesses to ensure that they’re making the most impactful yet thoughtful choices for our planet and their customers?

Firstly, circular is certainly better. Closing the gap in the loop of consumption is key in order for the use of any sustainably sourced material to have the longevity it needs to make a long-lasting positive impact. Right now, the demand to use recycled plastic materials is high. This is not only because brands and consumers are both more aware of the impact and responsibility they hold, but also in terms of cost; as recycled plastic is cheaper for brands than virgin alternatives.

However, we’re simply not recycling plastic fast enough to keep up with demand. Across Europe, only 58% of plastic bottles are recycled, whilst within the US, this number falls to less than 30%. Its also key to note that even recycled synthetics release microfibres when they’re washed, which make their way into our oceans. This means that suppliers will need to focus on bringing developments in new technologies forward in order for the impact of using recycled plastics to be felt planet-wide. Within the fashion industry, the alternative of reusing textiles would give brands a more direct journey to the Earth-friendly outcome they seek.

In line with the current coronavirus pandemic, suppliers have remained accountable by seeking out plastic-free alternatives to personal protective equipment. Leaders in packaging, Reel brands, has launched its new Plastic Free Reel[Shield]Flip visor, made of FSC food-grade paper board and PEFC renewable and sustainable wood pulp. This is something that we’re seeing on a wider scale, with brands turning to plastic-alternatives including CUPRO and TENCEL across their ranges. Tindi, who is certified with the Butterfly Mark for being accountable in it’s journey to minimise its environmental footprint whilst maximising its social good, has eliminated single use plastic across its collection, opting for sustainable alternatives.

This is not to say that innovative plastics are not a beneficial step in a sustainable revolution, and far superior to their single-use counterparts. With brand founders and thought leaders at the helm of putting sustainable materials at the forefront of their offering, innovation is at the heart of progression.

Looking to reduce your plastic intake? Take a look at how you can do so here.

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Written by - Kate Haines

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