Going green, keeping clean
It's plastic-free July! In the spirit of the month, Friendly Soap share their thoughts about the pitfalls of plastic and some of the ways that, as manufacturers or consumers, we can all do our bit
As more people around the world respond to the environmental and health threats posed by plastics, an exciting Australian initiative is thriving in both its relevance and reach. Since 2011, 'Plastic Free July' has been doing what it says on its (recycled) tin, encouraging global consumers to reject single-use plastic for the month of July, and beyond. We asked one of the UK's leading vegan and plastic-free manufacturers, Yorkshire-based Friendly Soap, for their thoughts and ideas on this initiative, on the perils of plastic generally, and on what they - and all of us - can do to address them.
Plastic Free July
At Friendly, we're big fans of Plastic Free July and the work it does to raise awareness of the damage done by plastic. The charity estimates that it has already inspired around 300 million (yes, 300,000,000!) people across 177 countries, and we really like the fact that it doesn't just do important campaigning work, it also actively helps individuals to change their everyday behaviours.
The charity's website has a simple and fun challenge people can set themselves, as well as providing practical resources to help consumers reduce their use of plastics around the home, workplace or even school. The website also features information and tools for helping encourage others to join the fight against plastic. Being a business driven by sustainability ourselves, efforts to win the hearts and minds of people is something we always get excited about!
As a society, we're only recently beginning to understand the full implications of our love affair with plastic, and especially single-use plastic. Hailed as a new and exciting miracle material decades ago, it's understandable that plastic was initially welcomed for its versatility. More recently though, we've begun to realise just how incredibly harmful it is for the environment, for wildlife and for our own health, too.
Increasingly, the public is rightly horrified by compelling evidence of what plastic is doing to the natural world, not least its oceans and sea life. For example, we know that plastic has been found in most sea bird species, and 100 per cent of turtle species, and it's also entering the human food chain too, in microscopic particles that cumulatively represent a real threat to our health.
We also know that half of all manufactured plastic ends up as rubbish within just one year, and that most plastics take over 400 years to degrade. Worryingly, even now only a small proportion of plastic is recycled worldwide.
Part of the problem with plastics is that they're found in so many common household things. Packaging is an obvious culprit, and that's an area we've always been keenly aware of at Friendly, and one we continue to work on within our own business. We've never used plastic to package our own end products. We prefer recycled and recyclable card in line with our strict vegan credentials which, along with workers' rights, animal welfare and complete transparency, is enshrined in our company ethos. More recently though, we looked closely at our logistics processes, and particularly at the wrap we used to cover our large pallets of products. As a result, for this application we've now switched to a superb new oxo-biodegradable film wrap.
We're using a special compostable cellulose-based material to pack our conditioner bars in too; a great way of upholding our commitment to being plastic-free while making sure customers receive these products in tip-top condition. We've switched from plastic to paper invoicing envelopes as well, and on our boxes we even use tape made from paper, not plastic. We hope that more manufacturers will go this way as more consumers demand it, not just because it's the right and responsible thing to do but because it actually makes good commercial sense. At Friendly we can genuinely claim that plastic isn't used by us at any point within our production or delivery process, and that's a huge plus point for our customers. We're going one step further too, with an imminent plan to ask all of our suppliers to make sure the raw materials we buy from them are always sent in plastic-free packaging.
Of course, hidden plastics are all around us, and there are lots of places where plastic is used that non-suspecting consumers might not be aware of. Items like chewing gum, drinks cans, sticky produce labels and even glitter and tea bags all use plastic, it's just that we can't always see it! Even some of the so-called 'greener' plastics - like Polylactic Acid (PLA) made from corn - are more problematic than we tend to think. With PLAs, it's because they don't break down in landfill, where anaerobic conditions effectively mummify waste. Clearly, visible and hidden plastics are everywhere, but consumers shouldn't despair. Information about how to avoid or reject them is also increasingly available, especially online, and we can all easily begin to ditch some of the more obviously harmful products like plastic drinking straws and single-use takeaway cups.
Innovation and changing attitudes
Increasingly, forward-looking companies are researching and producing fantastic natural alternatives to certain everyday plastic products. Innovation is key, and here at Friendly for example, we've been working hard to source and develop some great new products that would once have been made using plastic. One such product is our new soap box, now manufactured from 'liquid wood' - a completely organic biomaterial and a natural by-product of the paper-making process. We sell a bamboo soap rack too - another product that would traditionally have been plastic. We're also developing a washing up bar for dishes, providing a great alternative to traditional liquids in single-use bottles. Naturally, our core soap products are helping minimise plastic waste too, and we estimate that in the last three years, sales of these now amount to the equivalent of 2.5 million plastic bottles that haven't been sold then thrown away.
Along with these new scientific and product developments, there's cause for cautious optimism when we look at the way people are thinking, too. Encouragingly, the wider world seems gradually to be changing its whole attitude to plastics, and sustainability in general. A 'new normal' is slowly but surely emerging, where environmental and ethical considerations are becoming almost second nature for growing numbers of consumers. At Friendly this has always been the case - after all, it's why we started our business in the first place. Nevertheless, we're delighted and excited to see that a product's environmental impact is becoming an automatic consideration in the decision process of many shoppers. That's got to be a good thing, for the planet, for our health, and for the future survival of responsible businesses that rely on sales of plastic-free products.