The planet is warming, climate change is real, and if you’re freaking out about it like I am there are some ways you can calm your increasingly panicked eco conscience. As the situation on earth has become increasingly dire, the number of eco-friendly alternatives for everyday items like cleaning products, shoes and gifts, has increased as well. Brands have adapted and innovated to the growing needs of the planet, and attracted new clients and consumers through a shared value of conservation. We get it, the challenges of climate change are overwhelming, and it can easily feel like you as an individual can’t have an impact. But many small choices, like saving water, turning off lights and eating less red meat can all add up to a smaller carbon footprint over weeks, months and years. Your purchasing power is another great space for potential sustainability, especially through opting for eco-friendly plastics.
Humans and Plastic: A Tumultuous Love Story
There’s a reason, other than the obvious one, why those photos of massive mounds of plastic floating through the ocean, or dead whales’ stomachs filled with takeout forks, are depressing. It’s because those items look familiar. From our shampoo bottles to our Ziplock bags, our hair ties and charging cords — plastic surrounds all of us each day. It’s a material that’s been produced en masse since the 1950’s and for good reason. It’s cheaper to make than steel or glass, but durable enough to last through a meal, school year or entire decade in some instances. However, the energy required to produce and incinerate plastic is substantial and toxic, not to mention the gases released as plastic slowly degrades in landfills. Some estimates point towards emissions from both the production and incineration of plastic amounting to 56 gigatons of carbon between now and 2050, more than 50 times the annual emissions of all the coal power plants in the US combined.
Question: Doesn’t Plastic Get Recycled in the U.S?
Yes and no. But mostly no. The EPA estimates that only 8.7% of plastics got recycled in 2018, and since plastic takes about 400 years to degrade, on average, many of the plastic items your parents, grandparents and even great grandparents used are somewhere on earth today. Essentially, since mass plastic production began in the 20th century we’ve produced far beyond our recycling capacity, and so the vast majority of it still ends up in landfills.
Eco-Friendly Plastics, a Potential Solution
Thankfully, crisis breeds innovation, and a number of eco-friendly plastics have emerged in recent years, and become commonplace amongst brands that make everyday items you actually want to buy. You can now find dishes, bags, shoes, purses and other mundane and giftable items made of sustainable plastic that takes a gentler toll on the planet.
Many of the eco-friendly plastic alternatives are created in a way that’s easier on the planet, either through using less energy, using natural materials instead of synthetic ones, or reusing recycled plastic to keep it from polluting landfills or oceans. There are three main types of sustainable plastics that all sustainable choices can fit underneath.
- Biodegradable plastics
- Recycled plastics
Bioplastics are commonly used as alternatives for single-use or disposable plastic items like takeout containers, silverware, napkins and paper towels. They’re made from natural materials like starches, and don’t produce intense carbon dioxide gas when they break down. Certain types also save up to 2/3 of the energy needed to produce more traditional plastics. Examples include starch-based materials like cornstarch, polylactic acid-based blends (PLA), and cellulose-based plastics.
The second big type of eco-friendly plastic is biodegradable plastic, made to break down easier when exposed to light and oxygen. These types of plastics can leave behind toxic substances and aren’t always suitable for at-home composting systems. However, they are a lighter, less invasive form of plastic that’s a suitable alternative in the right circumstances.
Lastly, recycled plastics are the most common form of eco-friendly plastic in the commerce world. Recycled plastic takes plastic that’s been thrown away or recycled and turns it into a new item rather than letting it sit in a landfill or on the shore of a beach. Many large brands like Coca-Cola, Method, John Deere and Nestle have all made pledges to use recycled plastic in their manufacturing practices. While the process of changing one type of plastic into another can be energy-intensive, it reduces the size of landfills overall.
Many brands have adopted sustainable practices in their manufacturing or dedicated a product or two in their lineup to recycled plastics exclusively. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorites below and a few favorite products from each. If you’re in the market for a new down jacket, pair of shoes or reusable water bottle, keep reading. All of these items are available in an eco-friendly plastic.
Patagonia has been a leader in sustainable fashion and outerwear for decades. They not only prioritize recycled materials in their manufacturing, they also recycle old gear and promote eco-conscious choices to all of their customers. 64% of their fabrics, this season, are recycled and many of their pieces are Fair Trade Certified sewn.
Men’s Quandary Jacket
This is their standard rain jacket made of waterproof, breathable material that’s designed to stop wind, rain, snow and other elements. It’s versatile, lightweight, protective and great for layering. It’ll fit in just as well at the office as it will on the hiking trail, and comes in three neutral colors.
2. Men’s Down Sweater Jacket
This is another Patagonia staple that’s made of a 100% recycled polyester ripstop shell, and is filled with 800-fill-power Advanced Global Traceable Down that’s NSF-certified for the fair treatment of the birds. It’s a lightweight, waterproof warmth layer, and comes in a huge number of colors for all occasions.
Rothy’s is a relatively new shoe brand that makes their comfortable, wearable and washable shoes entirely out of recycled plastic water bottles diverted from the ocean. I personally own a pair, and you’d never guess they weren’t made out of the environmentally degradaceous stuff we’re used to. They’re super high-quality, cozy and look great even after months of wear. For the first few years they only made shoes for women, but they recently launched two great men’s styles which we’ve included below.
The RS01 Sneaker
This classic sneaker design has been given a sustainable upgrade and comes in five different colors including Bone, pictured below. They’re comfortable, durable and made for a casual dinner, travel day or lunch with friends. Pair them with a nice pair of capris or shorts for a stylish summer day.
The Driving Loafer
The other men’s style from Rothy’s is a classic driving loafer, designed to be worn comfortably without socks accompanied by a grippy bottom for stability. They’ve got a soft knit feel and dual-density insoles that cradle your foot with each step. They come in a bunch of colors, including this timeless and versatile navy that’s perfect for the open road.
3. Ocean Bottle
Ocean Bottle takes sustainability to the next level. Not only do each of their water bottles have a recycled ocean-bound plastic base, but each one funds the collection of at least 1,000 plastic water bottles destined for the ocean, and supports jobs in the communities doing the work to gather them. The collectors they employ in coastal communities trade the plastic bottles in exchange for money or digital credit they can spend however they want. It’s a win-win-win.
The bottle features double-vacuum insulation that retains heat for 9+ hours and cold for 18+ hours, has a double opening for easy refills and sipping, and is 100% dishwasher-safe. It comes with a built-in drinking cup, an easy-carry loop and has a no-sweat exterior. The top also forms an anti-leak seal and it comes in six different vibrant colors.