Can big corporations be sustainable? Multinationals are going “zero waste”

(ENG only) This is quite an exciting moment for all the eco warriors and the zero waste community. The issues around climate change, waste, single use plastic and their terrifying consequences on the environment are starting to gain more and more attention in several countries and from big corporations as well and big decisions are getting made. After the local governments of places like New York and Bali took action by recently announcing the ban of single use plastic, now even multinational corporations are doing their part and the list of companies that are trying to adopt more sustainable and environmentally conscious policies is getting longer.

Ikea stated that by 2020 all the single use plastic products will be taken out of all of its 363 stores and restaurants all over the world to help and encourage its customers to be more sustainable and aware of the environmental issues caused by plastic. Items such as straws, plates, cups, freezer bags, bin bags and plastic coated cups and plates will be replaced by more environmentally friendly alternatives. By 2025 more vegetarian food will be served in its restaurants to cut down the meat consumption. By 2020, the company also aims to rely on renewable electricity and heat in its stores and to phase out oil-based plastics to make sure that all its plastic products will be produced using recycled materials.

The Swedish furniture chain store is not the only one that’s taking steps towards a greener direction though.

A few days ago multinational corporations like Unilever and P&G announced that they’ve teamed up with TerraCycle, a global recycling organization, to create Loop, a circular shopping platform that will launch in just a few months in selected areas. Some major brands that belong to Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, Danone and PepsiCo will redesign some of their packaging opting for 100% recyclable and reusable materials such as glass, aluminum and stainless steel and become part of a zero waste online shopping project. The aim is to rethink everyday items that normally come into single use packaging such as various toiletries, cleaning products, certain foods and even ice cream, and bring them to customers in durable, functional packaging that will be reused over and over again, to reduce waste and encourage more sustainable habits and choices. Once the products are used up, the empty containers can simply be picked up to be refilled again. “Not so long ago, the milkman delivered reusable bottles and later picked them up to be refilled. Loop is the milkman reimagined – honoring our past from a modern perspective.”says Loop on its website. The containers will be hygienically cleaned and sanitized when sent back so they are ready to be reused and refilled, instead of ending up as waste after a single use. Plus, the materials that will be used for shipping also won’t be sent to the landfill, as the deliveries will be made in a specially designed sturdy tote bag, instead of cardboard boxes, packing peanuts and ice packs. All the empty containers can be collected in the tote and a free pick-up can be scheduled.

(photo credit: loopstore.com)

 

The project will be launched on Spring 2019 in USA and France (the metro New York area and Paris). The brands that right now are involved are: Haagen Dazs, Pantene, Crest, Oral B, Gillette, Gillette Venus, Febreeze, Axe, Dove, Rexona, The Body Shop, Nature’s Path Organic just to name a few (for more information you can visit Loop’s website here).

As far as I can tell, there seem to be a bit of a contrast in the online community, since there are people that are genuinely excited for this change and people who aren’t. I think that this is a huge achievement. If big corporations like Nestle and Unilever, that own tens of brands and sell their products all over the world, are starting to do something concrete to be more sustainable and reduce their waste, there can only be immense environmental benefits for the planet, its resources and the climate. It’s not much but it’s a start. These changes show that this is no longer a problem that interests a community of advocates. It should have never been a problem that interested just a bunch of people because if there is one thing that we all have in common, it’s this planet. But seeing big corporations doing something about it shows that the problem can no longer be ignored.

However, there are some things to consider:

  • Products in this reusable, refillable container will be only available online on Loop and not in stores, so we are talking about a small niche of people that will be able to access to it.
  • Loop will be launched and available only in certain areas, so again we are talking about a small niche of people even if this system will be expanded to other areas (most likely it will be done in cities where, like in NY and Paris, bulk shopping is already an option for those who can afford it or have the means and resources to support it, so this won’t solve the problem in making zero waste more accessible to those who are financially or socially disadvantaged or do not have enough means to be educated about it).
  • We are still talking about multinational corporations and brands that are well known for being unethical and unsustainable in many ways: the fact that some of their products are becoming part of an online zero waste program and redesign some of their packaging doesn’t erase or diminish everything else that these companies still do or have been done for years (there is an insightful blog post about the controversy of global companies becoming part of Loop on Green Indy Blog, you can check it out here . As it’s very well pointed out in this article, “packaging doesn’t change the fundamental nature of a company”.)
  • There are certainly other things that can and should be done to reduce the environmental impact of these companies rather than just putting a fancy vegan ice cream into a fancy stainless steel container. In these terms, I appreciate the attempt of Ikea for example to aim to serve more vegetarian food (animal agriculture is the biggest damage for the planet) or to rely on renewable energy.
  • Some people, even if they want to, might not be able to support this project because it’s too expensive (branded products usually tend to be more expensive than other alternatives on the market, especially in newer, fancier containers) so some people might be cut out even if they‘d like to be a part of it.
  • As far as I know, the products will still have the same formula, which means that toiletries and cleaning products, despite the reusable refillable packaging, will contain the same toxic chemicals that are harmful for the people who use them and for the environment too.

This recent partnership between Loop and Unilever & Co. might even look like just greenwashing or a publicity stunt. What do I think about it? I personally no longer support or purchase from these multinationals for various reasons (their unethical and unsustainable practices, like violation of human rights and damages for the planet, being one of them) and the fact that a bunch of brands will take part into this project won’t certainly solve the problem. But this is a start. It’s a sign that the zero waste community raised awareness around certain issues and there is an actual response coming from companies that operate on a large market. We, as ethically and consciously minded people, demand for real changes, real actions and we cannot simply point our fingers at the big bad wolves as soon as something happens. I wouldn’t judge it and label it as good or bad now that this project hasn’t even started yet, so I’d love to see how this goes and evolves. I hope this is not just a re-brand or a simple redesign, but that it will bring something concrete and will go a step forward. Considering that we are talking about some of the biggest companies in the world, if things are done correctly and with certain ethics, the changes might be huge and very impactful. It might and will take time but like I said it’s a start. New York and Paris are big cities where the people that can be interested in and reached by this initiative are hopefully many, so this might actually have positive effects on a large scale. Who already tries to live a conscious and ethical lifestyle is most likely not supporting these companies already anyway, but I like the idea of more people getting familiar and kind of „getting their feet wet“ in sustainability and starting to change their habits. Unfortunately, zero waste is still something for “privileged” people: I, as a Berlin resident, know very well that I have plenty of options and the financial means to support zero waste as a lifestyle. For many around the world, this is not an option, they have no other chance or no choice at all.

However I strongly believe that we, as customers and consumers, have a great power in our hands: everything that we buy and consume leaves a footprint, small or big that might be, and tells a message. And finally seeing that even the multinationals are starting to read these messages and to acknowledge the power of our voices and choices is a step closer to some actual changes. 12 years might seem a lot of time to save the planet, but they aren’t actually much. But maybe this can be the first “globalized” step towards that 2040 goal.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Ruth
    February 2, 2019 / 09:33

    I see this as a great news, for us and the world. So many innitiatives and pledges are made these days, as more and more realizes the real impact we are causing to the planet.
    Corporations are always catering to people’s demand. We (humans from generations back) wanted products to be cheap, light, easy – and they made it so, with other unseen price that our fellow human, animal, and earth had to pay. Now that we know better, we want better options (better for our health, animals and environment), they have started creating a better method in the full cycle in order to meet our demands.
    Some are green washing, some are real efforts.
    Everything takes time, for the whole change to take place and to have a real effect. Even giant corporations has some good people working inside, I am sure of this.
    But to get an idea rolling, to get it accepted, to start the change and implementations, to put it on the market and in the end to make it more accesible in terms of availability and pricing – all takes time. I say we continue the good fight, opt and support those who are changing their ways, vote with our dollars (in our case, euros), inspire & educate those around us, stay on our course and the world will change to the better.
    Great post Jenny, it’s good to see the “good” list growing in number.

    • February 10, 2019 / 12:24

      happy to read your thoughts about this Ruth! It’s good to see some tangible changes in the right direction coming from big companies too! Curious and excited to see what this will bring! 🙂

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