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- Virgin plastics have become increasingly unpopular as public awareness of plastic pollution has grown.
- Millennials are driving a sustainable shift in consumer goods as their needs, purchase power, and socio-civic mindsets pressure companies to adapt to sustainability.
- Below are 14 companies that are capitalizing off of the eco-friendly trend, and hopefully driving lasting change in the market.
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.
Below are 14 companies that are capitalizing off the unpopularity of plastics:
Parley x Adidas
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.
Read our review of Girlfriend Collective Classic Compression Leggings, Cupro T-shirts, and LITE leggings here
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.
Shayanne Gal / Business Insider
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.
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