March 19, 2013

Call those toll free numbers

Recently, the packaging of my brand of oatmeal changed: it went from a soft plastic bag with a #4 recycling symbol to a bag made from a crinkly type of material labelled with the #7 recycling symbol.  Alas, #7 plastics are a catch-all class of materials that don’t fit the other categories; they are for all practical purposes unsortable and unrecyclable.  Trash, hidden behind a recycling symbol.  (More on that here.)

Well, like most consumer products, my oatmeal bag had a toll-free consumer hotline – so I called it and to inquire why a company would change from recyclable to a non-recyclable packaging.  The person on the other end promised to forward my concern to the engineering department.

Alas, my oatmeal still comes in a #7 bag.  But if enough consumers called that toll-free line to question the packaging, I know the folks in the engineering department – and the boardroom – would take note.

Gandhi said, “We must be the change we seek in the world.”  Here’s a simple way you can Be The Change: if you come across packaging that is labelled as a #7 plastic or that is an unrecyclable mix of materials (there’s plenty of it out there), why not call that toll-free number and make your concerns known?  Enough calls = action and positive change!


Avoid exfoliating soaps with plastic beads

Imagine designing a product which, when used exactly as directed, releases tiny bits of plastic that can wind up in the ocean and persist for ages.  Crazy, right?

Crazy, but true.  For years, many exfoliating soaps have been laced with plastic microbeads.  They’re an abrasive, to remove dead skin particles, but they end up going down the drain.  If they make their way into marine environments (and that’s often what happens), they stay – for a long, long time.  Microbeads from exfoliating soap are contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastics swirling about in the world’s oceans today.  But they’re about the only plastic there by design.  What were they – or we – thinking?

Unilever, the maker of brands like Dove, Vaseline and Pond’s, announced in January that it would be phasing out plastic microbeads – but only completely by 2015.  My quick search found no similar commitment by Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Noxzema and Olay.  So what to do right now?

Happy scrubbing!