We are, or at least we have been a vast waste-producing species. Globally, we generate around 1.3 billion tons of waste a year between us, with this figure predicted to rise to around 2.2. billion by 2025. Western nations, where consumerism still runs high, are among the worst offenders and some of the biggest corporations in the western world have played their part through the production of excessive packaging.
But are we starting to see a change in attitude among companies? Recycling has long been encouraged at governmental level in many countries, with recycling banks and schemes for residents, but businesses getting on board with sustainability programs hasn’t really been big news until recently.
However, several high profile global companies have implemented initiatives for recycling and reuse of materials in the past couple of years. This year, both Apple and Coca-Cola launched campaigns and a number of other big name brands now have recycle schemes or have made sustainability commitments.
This is a welcome and long overdue change in business model inspired by increasing awareness among consumers for the need to protect the environment as well as the rising prices of raw materials. Recycling is cost-effective for both producer and consumer, and a number of smaller ethical brands have shown in recent years that building sustainability and recycling into your business strategy can work.
A World Without Waste: Coca-Cola’s sustainable packaging commitment
In January this year, Coca-Cola announced its “World Without Waste” recycling pledge to recycle a used can or bottle for every product item sold by the year 2030.
It’s an important step forward for the world’s most valuable drinks brand. As recently as last year, Greenpeace produced a report criticising Coca-Cola for producing over a billion disposable plastic bottles each year and failing to make a sufficient shift towards manufacturing bottles from recycled or renewable sources.
“World Without Waste” is essentially Coke holding its hand up in the air, admitting its part in environmental littering and confessing that it hasn’t done enough to address the problem in the past.
The company’s chief executive James Quincey issued a statement saying “The world has a packaging problem and, like all companies, we have a responsibility to help solve it.
Consumers around the world care about our planet. They want and expect companies like ours to be leaders and help make a litter-free world possible.”
Additional pledges include developing plant-based resins and educating communities across the world on recycling best practices.
A more ethical upgrade: the Apple GiveBack program
Apple has come a long way in recent years in terms of sustainability practices. In 2016, the company announced that all of its US-based centers run on 100 percent renewable energy. Now the world’s biggest brand is encouraging its customers to recycle their old devices at any Apple store or online through its GiveBack scheme.
As an incentive, Apple is offering store gift cards for the return of eligible devices. Those not eligible are still recycled for free. Last month, as part of an extra push to coincide with Earth Day, the company announced that a donation would be made to environmental charity Conservation International for every recycled device received through the scheme.
The initiative demonstrates Apple’s marketing nous, combining a sustainability strategy with a fresh way of marketing upgrades to customers.
The growth of corporate recycling and the rise of the circular economy
The fact that two brand giants such as Coca-Cola and Apple now appear to be taking recycling seriously shows that things are moving in the right direction, even if there may be a long way to go yet. As more industry leaders make a noise about green issues, promoting this sort of thing to your customer base will become the norm and we’ll see a gradual shift towards more sustainable product lines.
Even more positively, leading brands are now coming together to form partnerships to tackle the problem of waste production and accelerate the transition towards what’s known as the “circular economy” – where the lifespan of all products and materials is maximized through continued use and reuse.
Two initiatives are currently bringing together leading names to focus on sustainability and the circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a UK charity working with both businesses and governments to rethink and transform how the economy operates and how goods are produced and used. The charity has encouraged 12 big multinational corporations to work towards using 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2025.
The Closed Loop Fund, meanwhile, was launched in the US in 2014 and has seen over $100 million invested by companies including PepsiCo, Walmart, and Unilever towards building a recycling infrastructure and providing local firms with funding to improve their recycling practices.
The push by well-known companies towards greener practices will hopefully help inspire consumers to recycle, reuse and repair more themselves, as well as demand better practices from brands that lag behind. Consumers ultimately have the power to drive change and, if sustainability and waste reduction continue to grow as important factors when it comes to choosing which brands to shop with, we could see an acceleration in the pace of change.
At the same time, these brands and initiatives need to be carefully monitored to make sure that targets are met, promises are kept and commitment remains genuine and meaningful rather than tokenistic or vague.
Top brand names with recycling schemes and initiatives
Besides Apple and Coca-Cola, here are a few big brands that currently run recycling initiatives.
Adidas– the sports brand runs a shoe recycling project called “Sustainable Footprint” in Brazil. Customers can take old trainers or shoes (of any brand) into any Adidas store where they are shredded and turned into alternative fuels and raw materials for energy creation.
Best Buy– the electronics giant offers various recycling incentives including coupons and discounts for recycling printers and ink cartridges.
H&M– the Swedish clothing retailer has upped its game in terms of recycling of late. Shops offer coupons for recycled clothes of any brand as part of a garment collection initiative, the company launched a Conscious Collection of recycled items as part of World Recycle Week and has a commitment to use 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2020.
Levi’s– accepts donations of all brands for recycling in exchange for discount vouchers.
Lush– a renowned ethical brand, the cosmetics brand runs a Five-Pot Program where you receive a free facial for returning empty Lush pots.
MAC– one of the first cosmetics companies to run a take-back service, with its Back To MAC initiative offering customers freebies for every six packaging items returned.
North Face– the US outdoor clothing specialists take in recycled clothing and shoes of all brands in exchange for free coupons. All proceeds go to the Conservation Alliance.
Samsung– runs a take-back program where old products and components are refreshed and used in new products.
Here is a list of brands who have committed to 100 percent recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
- Amcor– all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025
- Evian– bottles made from 100 percent recycled plastic by 2025
- Ecover– 100 percent recycled plastic in all bottles by 2020
- L’Oreal– all plastic packaging refillable, recyclable or compostable by 2025
- Mars – 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025
- Marks & Spencer– all packaging in the UK recycled by 2022
- Nestle– all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025
- PepsiCo– 100 percent of packaging recyclable, compostable or biodegradable by 2025
- Unilever– all plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025
- Walmart– 100 percent of Private Brand packaging recyclable by 2025
- Werner & Mertz– all consumer goods packaging fully recyclable by 2025