Masses of plastic in the Pacific, straws in turtles’ nostrils, microplastics contaminating soil, water, food… These are just a few images from the plastic crisis that have motivated people to take action in recent years. They also paint a picture that has causes many to become discouraged, even uncertain or stressed about how to act.
Consumer action matters for an issue like plastic when 42 percent of plastic produced globally in 2015 was for packaging.
But while an increasing number of individuals are designing zero-waste practices into their lives, not everyone feels so empowered to transform their habits and diminish their carbon footprint. The reality is that nearly half of adults feel overwhelmed by environmental messages. And while 65 percent of consumers in one study have shown a desire to buy from brands with sustainability at their core, only 26 percent actually have done so.
It’s no wonder people want brands to help them make the right choices. A whopping 88 percent of people in the United States and the United Kingdom want companies to help them make environmentally and ethically sound choices. Only 28 percent of respondents to that same 2018 survey believed companies were succeeding.
That’s where brands like Repurpose Compostables come in. Repurpose entered the scene almost a decade ago with the first line of compostable, plant-based tableware — products like hot and cold cups, plates and bowls and assorted utensils. The brand first entered stores like Safeway and Walmart, and that was on purpose. Repurpose positions itself to make choosing a sustainable option light and easy.
The company doesn’t supply to restaurants or cafes or sell exclusively in green grocery stores as it aims to intentionally bring sustainable solutions directly to the stores where people shop on a daily basis.
“We're realists’ brand. We're not here to yell at people to stop using disposable products. We're here to create an alternative for them to use today, not in the future,” Corey Scholibo, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Repurpose Compostables, told TriplePundit in recent interview.
“80 percent of consumers say they'll use a green product if it’s not inconvenient. And that means I'm using disposable. I’ve got kids; I've got places to go; I've got things to do. Don't yell at me about my coffee mug all day. I forgot it; I lost it; I left it on the subway. I don't want to pay a whole lot more.”
This strategy of ease and accessibility has been paying off. Two years in a row, Repurpose was placed on Inc.’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what leads to great success in business, but surely considering the needs of the customer doesn’t hurt.
Repurpose’s philosophy is that more people living imperfectly sustainable lives is better than a few achieving zero-waste carbon neutrality. Small adjustments and simple choices make a difference and help turn individuals in the right direction.
And that’s where the heart of Repurpose’s work comes in. As people continue to choose Repurpose for its reliability, affordability and compostability, the company hopes to build relationships with its customers and start a conversation. For the founders, anti-plastic advocacy is the foundation of all their work.
“We are evolving the category and our branding beyond the traditional idea of green,” Scholibo said in a press release. “At our core, we’re an anti-plastic activist brand, but we use a positive, accessible approach to combat climate change, so consumers don’t shut down. Now more than ever, it’s vital to maintain a sense of humor and optimism. Why can’t fighting climate change be fun?"
Being consumer-facing helps Repurpose in its activism. The thinking is that, unlike cafes that go through thousands of disposable cups and plates a day and don’t care about the innovation behind the materials and design, individuals and families think carefully about what they bring into their homes.
Repurpose’s new website launched in November with only four drop-down menus, one of which is “Learn.” There, people can see the impact of their actions. To date, Repurpose’s customers have helped the brand keep 3,531,805 pounds of waste out of landfills; they’ve also prevented energy use and CO2 emissions.
Today, the company’s branding matches its lighthearted principles. Repurpose’s packaging no longer bears simple serious green leaves — the traditional icons of sustainable brands. Instead, straws declare “These Straws Don’t Suck,” and plates recommend “Cut the Cake.”
For years, Repurpose’s products were the only compostable and plant-based options in the disposable housewares aisle; and now, they will only pop with joyous color and patterns.
While Repurpose’s message is mostly fun and games, its commitments are serious. Part of the company’s promise is to keep bringing innovative solutions to its customers. When straw bans were popping up across the states, Repurpose was already ahead of the curve – the company had launched its compostable straw just three months earlier.
Keeping its finger on the pulse of customer needs, the company recently unveiled its first reusable plant-based products. The line is starting its messaging by communicating with parents of small children.
Lauren Gropper, founder and CEO of Repurpose, had the idea when she couldn’t find plastic-free, break-proof, microwavable dishes for her young children. She mused, “Could we use this incredible technology that mimics the functionality of plastic but has no toxins and can be put in the microwave?” she said during her talk with 3p.
Gropper says eventually she hopes her company will have a full line of compostable and reusable products that suit a plastic-free lifestyle. Whatever the future holds, she says the company will continue to “provide people today with what will be in the future” and make it as accessible as buying it off the shelf.
Environmentalism is serious business. And there are plenty of organizations and individuals taking it seriously. Lawmakers are passing progressive bills, activists are speaking out for change, innovators are discovering groundbreaking solutions. With pervasive problems like plastic, though, not everything can be done perfectly. Repurpose shows its customers that it’s ok to do what can you can right now and feel good about it. The company has found its own spot in the sustainability picture, and that niche is filled with the joy and foresight that can actually make a difference and resonate with customers.
Image credit: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.