Understanding which packaging materials make the least impact is hard! That's why we've done the research for you. When we take into account the materials used, recyclability and end-of-lifecycle impact, this is our cheat sheet for best-to-worst materials to choose.
A good rule of thumb, the more natural the fibers and materials are, the more likely they are to be biodegradable without a negative impact to the environment, or recycled into a material that can be easily reused.
📦️ - paper is easily recycled and takes 2-5 months to biodegrade in a landfill. Look for FSC recycled paper to preserve our precious trees!
🥫 - stainless steel is infinitely recyclable and the most recycled material across the globe
- a lot of municipalities recycle glass but glass production is energy intensive and the material itself is heavy and breakable
🧴 - #1 PETE and #2 HDPE plastics which are the sturdier plastics are the most likely to be recycled into something new. These plastics often show up in shampoo bottles, yogurt containers and soft drink bottles
🥤 - Take out containers, coffee cups, soft plastic packaging can be made out of many different types of plastic including #3 PVC or #6 polystyrene. These materials are rarely recycled and can live in a landfill for up to 500 years.
🛍️ - #4 LDPE ie. soft plastics are very difficult to recycle. Even if you take them to a speciality recycling depo these materials are hard to reuse since they are so thin and lose their property over time
🧃 - Aseptic cartons, AKA Tetrapaks are one of the worst materials to recycle. They might look like paper on the outside, but they are often lined with plastic, or plastic and aluminum on the inside making them very difficult to recycle.
We landed on our refill jug after doing all of this research. We needed a container that could hold bulk liquid but wasn't too bulky from a shipping and materials perspective.
Our refill jug is made with recycled cardboard, and an inner #2 HDPE plastic liner bag. The liner allows us to use 80% less plastic than a conventional plastic jug while the paper makes it sturdy enough to pour again and again. We chose the extra large 1.5L size so you could refill your Ever Dispenser 4 times and eliminate the need to go buy a single-use plastic soap or cleaning container every time you run out. The paper is easy to separate from the plastic which also makes it much more accessible for recycling.
An aside on compostable plastics. We looked a lot into PLA bioplastic or what you might see called "compostable plastic". These materials feel and look like plastic, but instead of being made from fossil fuels, they are a polymer derived from renewable biomass, typically from fermented plant starch, such as corn, cassava, sugarcane, bamboo, wood or sugar beet pulp. While they don't require the fossil fuel extraction to make the material and they do breakdown faster in a landfill than plastic, some of these materials behave almost the same as plastic and have been known to leave micro plastics in our environment and are also an issue with our recycling systems. If one of those bags gets mixed up with our LDPE plastic bag, it can ruin the entire recycling batch. Further, for many of these compostable plastics to actually biodegrade, they require a complex industrial composting system of heat and organic materials - which is just not accessible to most of the world.
"Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false" - Jim Robbins, Yale Education, 2020
Our refills are not a perfect solution but after doing all the research into materials, the best thing for the environment is to really focus on using less and reusing materials as much as possible. That's why we made our dispensers out of stainless steel, so they will last again and again. And that's why when we need to send our soaps in a container, we focused on reducing the amount of materials we use, using what is most likely to be recycling or biodegrade, and reusing as much as possible.