When the Ellen MacArthur Foundation made the startling prediction that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the world’s ocean than fish (by weight), it made big news. And for good reason. But along with the headlines, came action plans by corporations both big and small.
For Avery Dennison, the news confirmed that the material science and label company was on the right track with its aggressive sustainability goals, which include creating products that have a positive environmental impact far beyond the company’s own operations.
Already, it derives 40 percent of its revenue from sustainable solutions like polybags made from recycled plastic or renewable, bio-based sources.
“While we are well on our way to achieving our 2025 ambitions, we are still aggressively pursuing ways to increase the recycled content in our products, improve their recyclability and enable the circular economy,” said Michael Colarossi, vice president, product line management, innovation and sustainability for apparel solutions for Avery Dennison.
To further its progress, the company has teamed with Plastic Bank, an organization that makes post-consumer plastic waste a currency residents of some of the poorest communities in the world can use to purchase necessities and even pay for opportunities like school tuition.
Essentially, the organization has created an environmental and social win-win. To date, it reports recovering more than 10 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic and helping to supplement the income of over 4,000 impoverished families.
For Avery Dennison, Plastic Bank’s dual focus is a perfect fit. “We don’t see addressing single-use plastic as a ’cause;’ we see it as an imperative. We are also committed to positively contributing to the communities in which we operate,” Colarossi said.
Both companies are quick to point out that plastic isn’t the problem—it’s how we make, use and dispose of it that needs to be rethought.
For Avery Dennison that means creating products like Printed Fabric Labels, which are made from recycled polyester, require less energy and water usage, and are themselves recyclable.
In addition to repurposing the plastic waste the charity recovers into a yarn source for its labels, the company is licensing the technology to its competitors, which creates a revenue stream that’s funneled back into Plastic Bank.
This so-called Social Plastic® ecosystem is the circular economy at work. And Avery Dennison is constantly looking for ways to step up its efforts even more to head off irreparable damage.
“Plastic pollution is directly responsible for the deaths of millions of marine animals and seabirds every year, not including the immeasurable losses from habitat destruction. Microplastics contaminate the water supply and food chain of every living being on Earth, having been discovered as remotely as the Arctic Central Basin,” said David Katz, founder and CEO of Plastic Bank. “The ocean plastic problem also inhibits the ocean’s ability to act as a carbon sink, which exacerbates climate change, and virgin plastic production leaves an enormous carbon footprint to begin with.”
Thanks to the growing realization of the harm single-use plastics can have on the environment, Avery Dennison believes corporations and end consumers alike are more open than ever to supporting solutions to the problem—even if they cost more.
In the case of recycled content PFLs, Colarossi said there’s a “minimal” upcharge over conventional labels but the mission is what will really sell them—and the more they’re used, the greater the probability of bringing the cost down.
Colarossi anticipates momentum to grow behind PFLs because they have a great story and because today’s shopper is educated about the connection between their purchases and the products, processes and people behind them.
“More and more consumers are becoming aware of some of the environmental and social challenges that the apparel industry faces, and they are starting to speak with their wallets. As they do, we have seen a dramatic increase in apparel brands seeking ‘eco-friendly’ products, especially within the last 18 months,” Colarossi said. “Not only is it the right thing to do for our planet, but it is becoming a significant reputation and financial priority for apparel brands all around the world.”
To date, Avery Dennison offers a sustainable alternative for most of its products, and it’s on track to generate 70 percent of its revenue from these products by 2025.
“Solving the ocean plastic problem will require a joint effort from people and industry,” Katz said. “Leaders like Avery Dennison are critical to the Social Plastic® revolution because they empower their customers to create change simply by choosing Social Plastic®.”