We’ve shown you how plastic is due to be replaced by other materials and we’ve given you a few reasons why. Don’t take our word for it—even as early as 1972, in a study in Science Magazine, scientists identified the problem with plastic long before today. Imagine how much more plastic there is now, nearly 50 years later.
We don’t have to live with that. While we don’t know what amazing scientific advancements might give us in the future, we have some alternatives we can use right now that are just as good, if not better, than their plastic counterparts, and maybe you already use them in other ways.
You have probably experienced how useful paper can be in other areas of your life, so it should be no surprise that it tops our list. We’ve been writing on it for hundreds of years, and still do today, despite how much it feels like more and more parts of our lives go digital.
Paper is a great substitute for many reasons, but two of them stand out: paper comes from trees, an infinitely renewable resource (when well managed), and it is already widely used as a plastic replacement. Big retailers are shifting back to the paper shopping bags we had before plastic became so ubiquitous. This trend will continue into the future as other areas of the economy shift to paper.
But paper isn’t perfect. Because the most common source of wood pulp is trees, not every source is ethically grown and harvested—far too often, old-growth forests are cut down, contributing to climate change and destroying important animal habitats.
Similar to paper, bamboo is a great natural alternative to plastic and is already widely used in areas like flooring and other building materials where wood can be replaced. It’s even being used as a replacement for certain textile materials, and it’s not uncommon to find that bamboo was a component ingredient in your new coat. Bamboo grows extremely quickly, with some species clocking in at 1.5 inches an hour. It can also be grown in a diverse array of climates, so sourcing it is less of a problem than other natural products.
There are challenges involved with growing and utilizing bamboo for manufacturing purposes. For instance, plantations that grow bamboo can only grow bamboo. A reduction in biodiversity is an unfortunate result of this, as bamboo plantations provide only one product. Bamboo is also made into fibers by the use of harsh chemicals which are also not the best for our environment.
Steel and other metals are already being used in some implementations that can be reliably reused and repurposed. Steel is not a single-use replacement, but products made with steel are meant to be used over and over again. Steel is widely used already in many areas like water bottles—companies like SodaStream have already replaced plastic with steel or offer steel as an optional alternative to traditionally plastic products.
Steel is expensive to produce, and the process is not always environmentally friendly. While steel is a great multi-use material, some implementations require more flexibility and disposability—sometimes it’s easier to throw something away than it is to thoroughly clean it. Personal protective equipment, for example, should always be disposed of rather than reused.
Glass is one of the oldest and simplest materials in use by humans, dating back thousands of years to its first known creation in Mesopotamia or Egypt. It is made using sand, which is a widely available and plentiful resource. Glass makes a lot of sense for a lot of products we use, and most of them already use glass, like bottles, jars, and other food containers. Glass is cheap enough to make that it can be used in both single-use or multi-use scenarios.
As we all know, most of the glass we use is fragile, so its use as a plastic replacement makes less sense than other materials. This fragility makes it difficult to transport effectively, which means it can’t be used in as many ways as plastic. Also, while most glass can be recycled easily and cheaply, creating more glass is often seen as the better option by many manufacturers, which results in more junk in our landfills.
Here at Zume, we’re pretty confident that molded fiber is the best solution. You can get more details here [link to previous post about molded fiber], but here are some of the highlights:
- Molded fiber is completely compostable, which means even if it ends up in a landfill, it will break down quickly and safely
- Molded fiber is made from material that is otherwise considered waste product from existing agricultural practices--that means no additional farms or plantations are required, and the byproducts of farming can be used constructively
- Molded fiber is easier and cheaper to make than almost anything else, without sacrificing quality or reliability
Lara Sellars is a Senior Sales Executive at Zume, leading sales operations in the United States.