« Back to Home Page

The Surprising New Force Cleaning Up the Plastic Industry

CSRHUB | Wednesday August 24th, 2011 | 1 Comment

CSR RatingsThe following is part of a series by our friends at CSRHub (a 3p sponsor) – offering free sustainability and corporate social responsibility ratings on over 5,000 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies. 3p readers get 40% off CSRHub’s professional subscriptions with promo code “TP40.”

By Carol Pierson Holding

Americans are both addicted to and repelled by plastic just as residents of Los Angeles were by cars in the 1960s. Angeleanos had to experience stinging eyes and hacking coughs, then school closures, closed government offices and businesses before the city and state governments enacted legislation that tightened emissions standards.

With plastics, equally potent images come to mind: Plastic bags covering park hillsides, the island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, plastic bottle dumps, and the much-publicized health risks associated with plastics. This includes the latest from Utne Reader, whose piece on healthy sex toys sums up the dangers posed by the plasticizer phthalates used in jelly-rubber sex toys (the same ingredient recently banned in teething rings): Possible infertility, hormone imbalances and other health problems.

Outrage is growing, especially among those who remember pre-plastic grocery stores and rubber teething rings. How could plastic have been allowed to take over our lives and endanger our loved ones?

But plastic bottles are just one scourge. Regulation can’t be passed on a national level because of the objections from the massively powerful beverage industry, which spent nearly $60 million on lobbying in 2009 and $42 million in 2010. Instead bottle recycling mandates pass at the city or state level, where people experience the damage.

But now, anti-plastic bottle sentiment in the US is reaching a tipping point. Beverage companies are sensing the outrage from their customers and, fearing Federal legislation, are finally addressing it. It’s exactly what’s happening with cars.

A new report from the advocacy group As You Sow cites two companies, both with predictably higher than average overall environmental ratings, for sponsoring regulation on how to deal with empty plastic bottles. The Coca-Cola Company and Nestlé Waters North America are pressing publicly for“state extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws for post-consumer packaging similar to those in place in Canada and Europe.”

Not only are beverage companies stepping up to improve bottle recycling, business innovators are looking for opportunities to make money from the ocean of discarded plastics that aren’t recycled. Components of the Ford Focus car, such as underbody shields, wheel arch liners and air cleaner assemblies, are created in part from old pop bottles and milk jugs.  Not only does this re-direct plastic that can’t be recycled into more bottles, but it replaces car parts made of potentially non-recyclable materials.

Producer-led environmental innovation is also happening at even more promising stages of the plastics life cycle. For example, cleaning products: Replenish is marketing reusable cleaner bottles shipped without the 99% water that fills most cleaner bottles. Instead, a reservoir shoots pre-measured concentrate into the bottle for consumers to mix with their own tap water. Founder Jason Foster plans to license his design to other companies as well.

The tipping point on plastic bottles is also being carried along by cultural changes. The trend for smaller houses means less storage space and increased appreciation for smaller packaging. Washing machines with an Energy Star rating require HE (High Efficiency) detergent, which comes in smaller, sometimes non-plastic containers. A reverse vending machine would allow easy bottle returns and promises higher recycling compliance.

These innovations all require collaboration between citizens, government and producers. We’ve watched the auto industry lower their mileage and produce hybrids and electric vehicles. The beverage market, though further behind, is working seriously on its own problem – plastic. It’s nice to see all parties invested in bottled beverages — even producers — join in the solution.

Carol Pierson Holding is a writer and an environmentalist; her articles on CSR can be found on her website.

CSRHub is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) ratings tool that allows managers, researchers, consultants, academics and activists to track the CSR and sustainability performance of major companies. We aggregate data from more than 100 sources to provide our users with a comprehensive source of CSR information on nearly 5,000 publicly traded companies in 65 countries. CSRHub is a B Corporation. Browse our ratings at www.csrhub.com.

Inset photo courtesy of J. Tanodra/ UNEP


▼▼▼      1 Comment     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup

Comments

  1. August 25, 2011 at 9:17 am PDT | Anna Herman writes:

    Theses companies have created a lot of things made from plstic. Now they should clean it up, not get a metal. I quit buying clothes made off shore for my ECO Fashion line .One of the many reasons is because each one came in its on separate plastic bag. We have a long way to go . Yes I would love to see the plastic pulled from the oceans & the fish protected but I don’t want to wear it . We need better ideas of where it can be used . I’d like it out of my home too. Its very hard to get a way from but we should use as little as posible

    Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

Leave a Reply

  1. Please leave an intelligent comment. You are welcomed to link to your company or website, but entirely self promotional posts will be marked as spam.
There are 3 ways to comment on 3P

2. Facebook Users

Login to your Facebook account

3. Members

Register for an account or login.

Subscribe to Comments