Plastics and Innovation

The False Sense of Sustainability

Ah! Plastics and the environment, 2 words that do not seem to get along in one sentence lately. The rising concern of “we are killing the planet” has encouraged people to look more and more into their habits and question how sustainable their lifestyle really is. Which means actually paying attention to what they consume.

 

This has given companies an opportunity (or has forced them – depending on how you want to see it) to rethink their business and find alternatives that comply with the customer´s demands and, it has also opened a door for entrepreneurs. But this growing need to be “green” has also led to the spread of misinformation, which is counterproductive because in the attempt of becoming “sustainable”, we are being pushed to believe in things that do not have a scientific foundation and at the end turn out to be more damaging to the environment…or simply are non-sensical overall.

 

As an example, some months ago I came across an online-shop based here in Austria. The company´s vision is to “free this planet from plastic” and “support you to make small sustainable choices”. They are “convinced that by taking small sustainable choices, anyone can avoid plastic”, and so their business model is to bring alternative products to achieve this goal. In their assortment, you can find a variety of products: self-care products, clothing, food, bags, and even condoms. Besides some of the obvious selections such as crystal bottles, metal containers, and wooden/paper articles, some of their products provide an interesting alternative (e. g. algae-made food wrapping).

 

However, besides the perhaps intentionally-made dramatic marketing –e. g. mentioning that plastic condoms can lead to infections and infertility (there are no studies that support this claim), and so that their product is safer to use because it is plastic-free, I find it more concerning the lack of research when it comes to standard plastics, which leads to demonizing the material when in fact it is the greenest choice compared to others[1]. They also fail to acknowledge the presence of plastic in the description of many of their own products (except when highlighting the recycling), or make a distinction with their starch-based products (which is still plastic), hence contradicting themselves with their own advertisement as a plastic-free shop. Unfortunately, this is not something exclusive from this one company, but a trend from many more.

 

Sustainability is a confusing topic nowadays, however, if a company is really trying to work towards being sustainable, then it is their responsibility to actually take the time to sit down, read from valid sources, and do not mislead the public to believe in things that are not true.

 

At the end of the day, this is a problem of people and not material. These entrepreneurs say that the inspiration to start this business was the realization that after partying the whole night, they would find themselves in a pool of garbage, and so now they just want to party “the same way as before” but without the “guilt”. Guess they failed to see that no matter what the material is, if you end up throwing it on the floor, you still get your pool of garbage.

 

Estefania L.

Technical Support Engineer

[1] Imperial College London, Examining Material Evidence – The Carbon Fingerprint (2020) p. 8

 


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