If you live in the U.S. and relish grabbing a morning coffee on your way to work, the sleeve that stops your hand burning may well have been created by a manufacturing plant that recycles or composts 99% of its materials.
From paper and pallets to plastic wrap and metal, it gets recycled. And the sleeves themselves are made from 100% recycled material. “We’re not throwing anything in landfill – that’s what I love about it,” says plant manager, Chris Gibson.
Increasingly, businesses around the world are responding to a global imperative and consumer demand to go green. And more than 80% of people respect companies and brands that adopt eco-friendly practices, according to an international survey.
Virtually all consumers are worried about at least one environmental issue, it found. But while more than half boycott companies with unsustainable practices or products, eco-friendly concerns do not always translate to shopping behaviour.
“Consumers want to make responsible ‘green’ purchases, but do not always have the means to do so,” the report says. “For brands, this is an opportunity.”
The survey revealed that a third of consumers want recycling and composting information to be clear on product packaging, and more information on sustainability to help them make eco-friendly purchases.
By making it easier for consumers, businesses can profit. Shoe company Adidas, for instance, united with Parley for Oceans to produce 7,000 limited edition sneakers made completely from plastic trash retrieved from the ocean.
The sneakers sold out instantly, and Adidas is set to make a billion dollars from another production run of five million pairs.
Going green has several other benefits for companies. These include tax credits and incentives, improved efficiency, healthier workplaces, and cost savings – for instance by printing less, turning lights off in unused rooms and refilling ink cartridges. Reusing items also reduces waste from plastic packaging.
Plastic production is one of the world’s most pressing issues, having escalated to more than 320 million metric tons every year – and millions of those end up in oceans, rivers and landfill.
This month, 187 countries (not including the U.S.) agreed to monitor the transfer of plastic rubbish across borders. This followed a petition with nearly one million signatures imploring governments to stop western countries from “dumping … plastic waste on developing countries instead of recycling it”.
The impacts of this continuing trend will trickle down to businesses as countries struggle to deal with waste.
Every business can do its share. The coffee sleeve plant, run by Mesmerize in Nevada, produces more than 300 million customized coffee cup sleeves annually and recycles up to 1000 tons of paper, cardboard and plastic every year.
Pretty much everything that enters or leaves the building is either finished goods or recycled, Gibson says.
He is trying to recruit local companies to help them recycle the remaining 1% of their materials and cafeteria food waste. While household trash is separated into recyclables and compost, this service is not yet available for day-to-day collection from local businesses.
“We’re working on it; I’ve got multiple people checking into it,” he says. “It’s taken me 14 years to get to this point, and I figure if I can get it done within the next year, I’ll be happy.”
Meanwhile, in Australia, non-profit organization Planet Ark has launched a free toolkit for small to medium businesses, connecting them to recycling collection and support services to reduce waste.
In the U.S., non-profit organisation Recycle Across America is tackling confusing labelling on bins to standardize them and make recycling easier.
“Confusion at the recycling bin equals garbage,” they state. Their website also includes a toolkit for schools and businesses to recycle successfully.
Recycling is not the only solution – reducing and reusing waste will also help save money, energy and natural resources, explains the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But it’s an important start. Gibson says there’s always room for firms to improve their practices. To begin with, he advises, “Check with your local recycling companies.
“Recycling is the new wave of the future. Everybody should be going green to save the Earth.”