Chances are, you've thrown out some plastic already today. And you're going to throw out a lot more. In fact, Americans generated 30 million tons of plastic waste in 2009. That's more than 12% of our total waste. Try as you might to lessen your contribution to that giant pile of plastic, though, and you might find it difficult. A bottle of water here or there, sure, but most of what you consume comes in plastic, and there aren't many alternatives.
One major one is the new cardboard bottle with an internal plastic pouch from Ecologic Brands. Though it looks like your standard bottle, its outside is made from entirely recycled cardboard and its inside pouch—which uses 70% less plastic than a plastic jug—is fully recycleable. After four years of development, you may see it soon, holding Seventh Generation detergent.
"Having this not look like crap was the hardest part."
Plastic is so hard to replace, says Julie Corbett, the founder and CEO of Ecologic Brands, because it is often the best packaging option possible. "You think it's easy to replace plastic. It really isn't. America is a big country. We're a global world. Things are shipped in the harshest environment; things are dropped. The thing about plastic is that it performs." Even when you think you're using something other than plastic, it can sneak up on you. Containers for dry goods like, say, powdered laundry soap, might look like cardboard, but to keep moisture in, that cardboard has been coated with plastic, making it unrecyclable.
But Corbett's company is working to change that, by designing a bottle made from recycled paper that features as little plastic as possible. She was inspired after buying her first iPhone and seeing the impressive shapes of recycled cardboard in the packaging. If cardboard could be made into those shapes, why not a bottle?
Corbett is Canadian, so she also knew what few Americans understand: A plastic pouch is the best way to store a liquid. In Canada, you see, milk comes from the store in plastic bags. "That simple milk pouch is the most ecological packaging on the planet," says Corbett. "Your product to packaging ratio is at the highest level if it's in a very thin polyethylene pouch. It uses 95% less packaging than any other liquid."
After a test with a small milk company in which Ecologic's packaging blew competitors out of the water, the company landed Seventh Generation's detergent. "Large brands—like Seventh Generation—need that when a bottle shows up at a target in Alaska, it's not going to look like crap. That was the hardest part." In January, the bottle will be available to more brands and then, given its current success, the idea of a plastic bottle might become a little less ubiquitous.