By 2050, the world’s oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish; it’s time to make a business case for reducing waste.
“As companies confront the realities of today’s economic environment, it’s easy to overlook the value and potential for growth that lies in ordinary, everyday waste,” says Jennifer Gerholdt, Director of Environmental Initiatives at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Centre. The Foundation unveiled a report at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos which put forward a model for a circular economy for plastics.
The US Chamber of Commerce, which works with the Foundation, has also urged companies to rethink how they dispose of other easy-to-recycle substances like paper, predicting that a 1 per cent reduction in paper waste could result in savings of as much as $1 billion.
There are already numerous creative solutions out there, ready for wider implementation. For example, design agency Studio D Tale believes that reducing paper waste can begin with something as simple as your morning cup of coffee. CupClub is a connected, reusable plastic cup, which is intended to replace disposable cardboard cups, 2.5 million of which are thrown away in the UK every year.
And then there’s IKEA, which is currently looking at reducing its packaging waste in the UK by investing in natural fungi-based packing materials as an alternative to polystyrene. Mushroom Packaging by New York-based Ecovative consists of mycelium, which can be grown in shaped containers, and can be left in a garden to decompose entirely within a matter of weeks.
Private consumers are more concerned than ever with making sustainable, responsible purchasing decisions. A growing number of brands are pivoting to respond to this trend, while simultaneously leveraging sustainability to build customer loyalty.
Clothing company Jigsaw launched a “For Life Not Landfill” campaign last year which incorporated items from previous lines into the new season, reflecting the average consumer’s real life wardrobe. Jigsaw called it “the perfect antidote to the endless trends and throwaway fast fashion culture, proving that Jigsaw clothes really do stand the test of time.” Elsewhere, style brands like Nudie are offering free repairs, while department store M&S encourages donations of old clothes.
“I believe that everyone is creative, and we all have the ability to solve everyday problems,” says Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, creator of Sugru, a re-mouldable putty which can be used to craft all kinds of every day items. “When I created Sugru I felt that if there was an easy and fun way to fix things, then millions of people would do it. And in doing so, we would not only help the environment but live a more creative life.”
This boom in DIY and sustainability-centric innovation might not have happened even five or six years years ago. Post-recession, consumers are far more interested in fixing things and coming up with inexpensive solutions themselves, whereas in the past they might have simply gone out and bought brand new stuff.
Enter BuyMeOnce.com, a website which only sells products that carry a lifetime guarantee. Founder Tara Button, who has a background in advertising, launched the site as a response to the “planned obsolescence” which often results in customers being forced to buy replacement items every few years. She wants the site to become something of a “kite mark” for product longevity.
“Every time I read something about the environment, I would get this guilty feeling that I wasn’t doing anything,” she says. “I kept thinking, if people did buy things that were built to last it would have such a positive impact – both economically and environmentally.”
The downside, of course, is that you’ll spend more on your Buy Me Once purchases than you would elsewhere; fast fashion especially may prove to be a tough habit to kick when it’s so inexpensive. But there’s a case to be made for saving money in the long run by buying products for life.
“This site is the holy grail for those looking to prioritise quality over quantity,” says The Guardian’s Madeleine Somerville. “You won’t find the cheapest stuff here, nor always the most stylish, but everything collected on the site is designed to be bought once. It’s designed to spur a shift from the pervasive ‘consume and replace’ mentality of our culture to a more sustainable ‘keep or pass on’ mode of operation.”