Eco-watch: Brands take recycling to the next level

As consumers become more discerning about environmental claims, brands are making products out of recycled materials.

Nespresso

The list of brands making efforts to eliminate single-use plastics and other forms of waste appears to be growing by the day. Some have focused on eliminating food waste, while others are deploying innovative packaging designed with sustainability in mind.

Some brands have been taking their efforts one step further, launching new products or reformulating existing ones out of recycled materials. The approach is often referred to as upcycling, a growing trend through which waste is treated as a resource and given a second function  though the term may be inaccurate in that brands are making use of post-consumer recycled material in raw form, as opposed to “directly converting waste streams to new, valuable products,” notes Patrick Callery, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, who studies corporate sustainability strategies.

The trend has manifested itself among large and small companies alike, which have launched niche and mainstream products, Callery says, and it comes at a time when consumers are showing greater interest in sustainable product offerings.

Adidas was one of the early fashion giants to get involved, having created its first line of performance products with recycled plastic in 2016. As of last year, it had produced more than six million pairs of recycled-material-based shoes through a partnership with environmental group Parley for the Oceans, after scouring the shorelines for marine debris that can be repurposed.

Aldo-ShoeSimilarly, Aldo, already the first footwear company to become “climate neutral” certified in 2017, has more recently introduced its first sustainable shoe collection (pictured, right). Called RPPL (and pronounced “ripple”), the line includes an assortment of men’s and women’s casual slip-ons and sneakers that are made using a combination of recycled water bottles and “BLOOM Foam,” a material derived from lake algae biomass. The shoe company estimates the collection will keep 46 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, due to its low impact and recycled materials.

Vancouver-based backpack and accessories maker Parkland is also tackling plastic waste, having declared in 2018 a shift towards making the exterior fabric of all Parkland products from 100% recycled water bottles. The company says its mission is to “inspire others to make sustainable choices by offering products that combine purpose, style, and quality at an accessible price.”

Parkland

Customers weren’t necessarily asking Parkland to make the switch, says marketing manager Daryl Trinidad, but the company felt it had a responsibility to look for “new ways to do business differently,” and it now incorporates that message across all its communications.

“We are very conscious of the fact that using recycled polyester fabric isn’t a solution to the problem of plastic water bottles in and of itself, but we believe it’s a step in the right direction,” he says.

Callery believes these initiatives are proof that the trend is growing rapidly and that companies stand to gain by going green, but he argues that those whose messages conflict with their core activities risk backlash from consumers, as they become more discerning in evaluating environmental claims.

Coffee maker Keurig, for example, is currently facing a class action lawsuit in the U.S. over allegedly misleading consumers about the sustainability of its K-Cup pods. Getting consumers to buy into a sustainability message at a time when single-use products, such as coffee pods, are under greater scrutiny for their inherent disposability is no easy feat.

Nespresso appears to understand this and has aimed instead to inspire customers to learn more about the process and understand the reusability of its own coffee pods, which are made of aluminum. Last month, in partnership with Swedish bicycle company Velosophy, the Nestle-owned coffee maker unveiled “Re:Cycle,” a line of bicycles made from recycled coffee capsules.

A thousand units of the limited-edition bikes have been made available through Velosophy’s website for €1250. Each comes in bright purple (a nod to Nespresso’s Arpeggio blend) and with a capsule-shaped bell and cup-holder basket. Only 300 pods go into making a single Re:Cycle bike – a drop in the bucket for a global company the size of Nespresso  which signals the campaign is more about recycling awareness than finding a long-term solution to the conundrum of single-use products.

Re:Cycle serves as a reminder that Nespresso pods are made of aluminum, a material that is rare in its ability to be remelted and reused an infinite amount of times, says Katrine Gouron, PR and events manager at Nestlé Nespresso. The same insight was behind its decision to create a capsule-based Swiss army knife and vegetable peeler in partnership with Victorinox, as well as limited-edition aluminum ballpoint pens with Caran D’Ache.

“For us, creating second-life objects from our capsules is a way to inspire our customers to recycle more and bring to life the value of the aluminum,” says Gouron. “Saying that aluminum is infinitely recyclable is one thing. But then when you see it and you can touch it, that’s another.”

Nespresso-2

Gouron won’t say how many of Nespresso’s pods are ultimately recycled, and acknowledges that accessibility to its recycling programs remains a challenge. Nespresso offers a green bag solution in more than 330 municipalities (all of which are in Quebec, except for three in BC), allowing customers to gather their pods and put them in their blue box for recycling. But in most of the country, consumers only have access to the “red bag” option, meaning they must drop them off at either a Canada Post mailbox or post office, which Gouron admits remains a “stretch” for many customers.

Still, she says Nespresso hopes partnerships like the one with Velosophy will bring greater awareness of its products’ recyclability, and thus encourage them to recycle.

“The important factor behind these initiatives is the slow march toward changing consumer culture and attitudes toward consumption. So a product that can influence consumer attitudes and behaviours in a lasting way is often more impactful than the minor reduction in energy use or plastics waste,” says Callery. “The big question will be how consumers differentiate between genuine offerings that make a substantive impact versus greenwashing, and I think the bar to meet consumer expectations will continue to rise, albeit slowly.”