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Like perms, gaucho pants, and bump-it clips, plastics appear to be trending downwards in the court of public opinion.
Why? To be reductive, because the news about plastic is getting scarier, more of us are seeing it, and we lead an increasingly large portion of our lives on public forums (such as Instagram) that generate visibility of environmental issues and the social pressure to mitigate them. It also doesn't hurt that millennials and Gen Z are confronting the fact that, as their years on planet earth stretch out before them, so too do the rapidly approaching effects of climate change — water shortages, famine, extreme weather, rising sea-levels, and destabilized societies.
Bad press for plastic is pervasive. One week it's a dead whale with 64 pounds of trash in its stomach in Spain. A few weeks later, it's one with 88 pounds in the Philippines. An impressive number of us could probably rattle off that 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic are floating at the top of the Great Pacific garbage patch. (Ten times more than there are stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.) Fewer would know that it's also made its way into our bodies, and was observed in eight out of eight human feces scientists tested in 2018. It makes you ask, what can I do to stop this?
Now, consumers are putting pressure on companies to nix virgin plastics. The charge is led primarily by millennials, people who have grown up in an era of globalization and economic disruption and have, as a result, perhaps missed out on an implicit trust in the infallibility of greater institutions. Familiar with "fake news" online, and armed with instantaneous search results from Google, they're natural-born skeptics.
Statistically speaking, they're right to worry. A landmark United Nations report said if the world doesn't utterly transform energy systems in the next decade, we risk ecological and social disaster. But climate change is deeply politicized in the US, and it makes our most effective, easiest option — sweeping legislation — unlikely. While we've made over eight billion tons of plastic in the last 60 years (virtually every piece of which still exists in some shape or form on earth), we're still using more virgin plastic today than ever before.
But millennials have significant sway. They comprise roughly 30% of the population and were projected to overtake Baby Boomers as America's largest living adult generation in 2019, a number that's growing due to variables like young immigrants bolstering numbers, while Boomers' drop. They have significant purchasing power: They spend $600 billion each year in the US alone, and they represent $2.45 trillion in spending power globally.
Companies that have wised up to the sustainability trend are capitalizing on the unpopularity of plastics. Many of those companies are young digital startups, spearheaded by millennials themselves who may have first seen the market need or grown up with the same sensibility that achieving a net good is every person and company's responsibility.
Parley for the Oceans is an organization dedicated to addressing the threats against our oceans. In a well-known collaboration with Adidas, the two launched shoes and apparel that fuse Adidas' famous performance tech with sustainable materials. Each sneaker repurposes approximately 11 plastic bottles intercepted before they could enter the ocean. The colorways mimic the environments they seek to protect — seafoam blues, deep greens, and a spectrum of navy. Adidas' goal is to phase recycled plastic into all of its shoes by 2020.
Girlfriend Collective is an emerging athleisure startup known for its flattering, affordable athletic wear made from recycled plastics like bottles and fishing nets. It initially gained online buzz for giving away free leggings over Facebook, and has since evolved to garner spots at cool-girl brand Reformation (another big name in sustainable fashion) and big department stores like Nordstrom.
People love the leggings for their fun color palettes, flattering seam design, and athleisure or HIIT-appropriate options. The originals are made from 25 recycled water bottles each and its comfortable, airy T-shirts are made from Cupro, (a fabric made from cotton linter that's soft, silky, and essentially a form of waste from the cotton industry). More recently, it released a lightweight, workout-friendly line of clothes made from recycled fishing nets (the ocean's biggest pollutant) called the LITE collection.
Allbirds is best-known for their sustainability in other materials, with a main collection made from merino wool, one made from Eucalyptus pulp, and another more recently released of flip-flops made from the first carbon-negative EVA foam made from sugar cane. However, the company also makes its laces out of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.
Everlane's ReNew collection — a line of jackets and sweaters made with recycled plastic bottles — was launched in tandem with the announcement of a company-wide shift. By 2021, Everlane will eliminate all virgin plastic from its supply chain. Smaller steps will be rolled out sooner, like reducing single-use plastic in offices and stores by 50% (March 2019), renewed alternatives to polyester in production (2018), and starting to ship orders in 100% post-consumer recycled poly bags (2019). Everlane also reported it was forming an internal sustainability committee to educate their team on waste reduction and conduct progress audits. By 2021, the company plans to have redeveloped all existing yarns, fabrics, and raw materials containing virgin plastic with renewed equivalents.
Everlane also launched a collaboration with The New York Times in April 2019 to raise awareness of climate change.
Startup Buffy makes a down-alternative comforter constructed with a mix of microfiber and eucalyptus fiber. Aside from being fluffy and naturally cooling, the interior is also filled with no fewer than 50 recycled bottles. The company has reclaimed over 750,000 plastic bottles from entering the oceans and landfills, and saved over 15 million gallons of water by using eucalyptus rather than cotton. Plus, as a down alternative, you're also investing in a cruelty-free product.
Patagonia has been making recycled polyester from plastic soda bottles since 1993, making it the first outdoor clothing manufacturer to turn trash into fleece, according to the company.
Now, it makes its recycled polyester fibers from a blend of used soda bottles, unusable manufacturing waste, and worn-out apparel (including Patagonia garments).
The recycled polyester can be found in a wide range of Patagonia's collection, ranging from packs to T-shirts to winter weather gear. The company also sells Guppyfriend ($29.75) — a washing bag that reduces the number of synthetic microfibers that may enter rivers and oceans from washing.
Patagonia also makes the most sustainable cashmere option we've found and has a relatively sustainable food line called Patagonia Provisions.
Rothy's is one sustainable brand that may be better known by sight than by its eco-friendly story. Increasingly popular in hubs like San Francisco and New York City, these lightweight flats are made from knit composed of 100% post-consumer plastic, while the foam components of the insoles are made from other recycled shoes. All in all, the company has repurposed nearly 13 million plastic water bottles.
Rothy's uses both hand assembly and 3D knitting machines, so each pair feels flexible, soft, and durable. You can even throw them in the wash.
Vivobarefoot is an industry leader for barefoot shoes, and their recently released PET collection turns approximately 17 throw-away plastic bottles into a new pair of shoes. The PET offerings run the gamut: minimalist sports shoes, trail shoes, land and sea boots, and streetwear like suede chukka boots. All styles prioritize wearability, durability, and a design meant to mimic the foot's natural anatomy and enable more sensory feedback, and each folds up to the size of a rolled pair of socks. Prices range from $90 to $190.
The line is an extension of a gradual progression towards a more sustainable production line, with the company already having released eco-canvas and eco-suede in 2015 (each using 50% recycled PET).
Founded by a female biologist, Ethique formulates 30+ solid "beauty bars" for everything from shampoos to conditioners, moisturizers, self-tanners, and body washes, and more — and they work equally well as what you're used to.
Every bar is vegan, sustainably sourced, naturally-derived, and comes in biodegradable packaging. They also last two to five times longer than bottled options since they're so concentrated (and since 70% of bottled shampoo is water), meaning you save money and contribute a smaller carbon footprint since you're ordering less frequently. To date, the company has prevented more than 3.3 million plastic bottles from being made and disposed of.
In 2015, the company was recognized as New Zealand's most sustainable business with 'the Best in B' award. In its early stages, the company also attracted the highest number of female investors in PledgeMe history. (PedgeMe is New Zealand's crowdfunding platform.)
Nike developed Flyknit in response to feedback from runners who wanted a shoe that fit snug like a sock. After four years of collaboration amongst programmers, engineers, and designers, the company created the technology to make a knit upper with static properties for structure and durability. The result is a featherweight upper that doesn't lose its shape but feels formfitting and seamless.
The company says Flyknit shoes reduce the material waste of traditional cut and sew production by an average of 60%, and each pair is made from the equivalent of six recycled plastic bottles.
Seed Phytonutrients is the young, sustainable, clean haircare startup that's made its way into Sephora stores in less than a year of production. It comes in the first shower-friendly paper bottle, made of 100% post-consumer recycled paper with a thin, post-consumer recycled plastic liner that's 60% less plastic than a traditional bottle. It'll also arrive in recycled and recyclable packaging.
The list of accomplishments for the body and haircare line is long: it has natural fragrance and is vegan, paraben-free, gluten-free, sulfate-free, and of 93%-100% natural origin. The company also supports independent American organic farmers and protects seeds against over-commercialization by paying for 100% of a farmer's crop upfront regardless of yield.
Crack open your bottle once you've used all the product — inside, Seed Phytonutrients packs a small packet of a range of heirloom seeds in collaboration with Hudson Valley Seed Company to preserve seed diversity. Grow them in your garden or inside your windowsill.
United by Blue is an outdoors gear startup founded in 2010 with the express purpose of using great gear to accomplish conservation efforts. For every product sold, United by Blue removes one pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways. And among other sustainable materials, it uses recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles — and other unusable manufacturing waste — for many of its durable outdoors packs. It's also a B-Corp, as are some of our other favorite companies to shop.
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As well as companies adapting their products to use fewer virgin plastics, so too have new products popped up to curb plastic pollution. Guppyfriend ($29.75) makes a machine-washable bag that acts like a net for the microfibers that come off of synthetic textiles in the wash. Just put your synthetic clothes into the Guppfriend, throw the bag in the wash, and remove the released microfibers from hems inside of the Guppfriend and throw them away in the trash.
The Waste Nothing Jacket is an aptly named item from versatility-minded label Aday, known for its minimalist offerings, clean lines, and optimized clothing systems (think: work to after-hours to the weekend). The jacket is made from 41 recycled plastic water bottles, can be worn on its own as a shirt, and feels both lightweight and breathable as well as architectural.
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