A new platform aims to bring brands, scientists and business leaders together to eliminate single-use plastics.
More than 40 organizations and individuals from across the globe have teamed up to form PlasticFree, an online design tool that enables creatives to reframe their use of textiles, packaging and other business-centric products often made with plastics. Formed by material science firm Natural Fiber Welding (NFW) and U.K. business solutions group A Plastic Planet, along with a founding council that includes business leaders such as Eden Project co-founder Sir Tim Smit, MIT’s Skylar Tibbitts, WeTransfer co-founder Damian Bradfield and Ben Parker of Made Thought, the platform houses information on plastic-free alternatives to commonly used materials, as well as cutting-edge innovations in the world of reusable packaging.
The site wants to help the fashion industry displace 1 trillion pieces of plastic from its pipelines by 2025. Believing that success stories will both inspire and breed replication, PlasticFree has given users access to 125 case studies from companies across the globe that have replaced plastics with alternative materials to build better products and systems. The site features secure workspaces for teams to collaborate on projects, editorial content from experts and daily updates from across the sector.
Scientists like medical expert Professor Hugh Montgomery OBE of University College London and green chemistry pioneer Professor Terry Collins of Carnegie Mellon University have lent their expertise to the effort. PlasticFree also shines a light on materials that fail to pass muster with environmental regulators, featuring information about products brought to market that haven’t met the EU’s stringent standards for plastic-free labeling.
“There are few things more exciting to a designer than finding the combination of like-minded passion and depth of expertise,” Reckitt Benckiser global head of brand experience Jos Harrison said. The British consumer goods company has been using the PlasticFree platform to find information that will enable it to design without plastics, empowering “teams of designers inside and outside our organization—and across the industry.” The resource is “supercharging the unique capacity of designers to imagine and improve the future,” he added.
Rather than “cobbling together continually emerging technologies and ideas,” the centralized platform “makes it easy—and inspiring—to better our practices by bringing it all together in one trustworthy place,” said Bruce Mau Design chief creative officer Laura Stein. “PlasticFree fills an important void to accelerate positive action against our biggest human challenges. As designers, we need to understand the full life-cycle of what we make.”
A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland said she believes 160-million-strong global creatives possess “significant power” in the bid to reimagine a plastic-free world. The project aims to bring those forces together to collectively “rethink how we take, make and waste, to reimagine different systems and material uses in a very different way from today,” she added.
“Our default dependence on incredible but toxic and indestructible plastic has to end,” Sutherland said. While designers want to be a part of the solution, they are constantly sidestepping accusations of greenwashing. “There is a minefield of misinformation out there [and] if we can ignite and empower creatives by giving them trusted, relevant data and inspiring case studies, we believe we can change everything much faster. Above all, our focus is on system change not just better materials,” she said.
Ultimately, the sector’s evolution will begin at the design stage, when products are first conceived. “We have one simple goal—make the designer the smartest, most confident person in the room to push back against that inevitable brief that says just use a bioplastic or a recycled polymer, so we get a green tick,” Sutherland said.
PlasticFree found a natural partner in NFW, which was awarded the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation’s Inventor of the Year award in 2022. “We share their vision to rethink a future of true circularity, creating a new standard for truly sustainable materials without plastics and toxins,” the co-founder said.
Illinois-based NFW has created a number of bio-based materials already being used by industry names like Ralph Lauren, as well as footwear brand Allbirds and material science innovator Pangaia. Last month, Portland, Ore. plant-based fashion brand Unless Collective launched a biodegradable sneaker made with a number of NFW materials, replacing leather and textile uppers, foam midsoles and outsoles with options free of any plastic content.
NFW founder Dr. Luke Haverhals said that society has “built an unhealthy and, very often, unnecessary reliance on plastics and other petrochemicals.”
“We are overdependent on synthetics that break down into harmful micro-plastics that find their way into our rivers and oceans, our soil, our food, and our bodies,” he added. PlasticFree represents an industry breakthrough capable of bringing “the resources of millions of global creatives together to rethink our approach to material production.”
Haverhals pointed to the organization’s “four scalable, high-performing material families” as proof that a plastic-free future is possible for companies willing to design with sustainability in mind. “Many more performance materials are coming because of our revolutionary IP and technical breakthroughs,” he said. “We support PlasticFree as a tool to help the wider industry break from finite fossil fuels and linear plastics, and align with Earth’s natural circularity.”