When we started Better Basics, we knew we weren’t able to eliminate containers all together. We knew we would need some sort of container to send products to customers and we all know the detrimental impact of plastic, but what are the best alternatives?
We started researching different options - glass, aluminum, steel, paper, bioplastic. They all have their merits and disadvantages. It’s not one simple equation. You have to consider where the raw materials are resources from, how renewable they are, the lifespan of the materials, its weight for transportation, its ability to get the job done, and then what happens at the end of the lifecycle - can it be recycled? Will it be recycled? If it ends up in a landfill, how long will it take to biodegrade and will anything be left behind?
We think this could be an entire life’s work and the results would still be controversial. There are some benefits to choosing plastic. It keeps products on the shelf in a lightweight container for longer, and uses a lot less carbon to make. Our problem with plastic is what happens with it once it's discarded. With only 9% being recycled, the rest ends up in a landfill and takes centuries to break down.
So we started to research other options.
Our best option due to its longevity and infinite recyclability was steel. Steel is the most recycled material today, with 86% coming from recycled materials, and the ability to infinitely and easily melt it down and use it again. This is why we chose to make our Ever bottles from steel. Not only is it durable, but it is also highly recycled, and recyclable in almost all recycling streams along the world.
Glass has an attractive appeal and is fairly easy to recycle, and can be recycled again and again in a fairly efficient and easy-to-use system. One disadvantage of glass is the energy it takes to melt down and form. The good news is that recycled glass uses 40% less energy than virgin glass which reduces its carbon footprint. Unfortunately, is heavy which makes shipping less viable, and the lack of durability does not make it a good option for an everyday household product.
Aluminum is a great option. It is also infinitely recyclable and 75% of aluminum that we use today actually is already recycled. The only limitations to aluminum is the shape and size of containers, and the amount of materials that may be required to ship product compared to a plastic bag.
Our next favourite option is paper. We know recycled paper breaks down within 2-4 weeks in a landfill and is completely compostable. The challenge with paper is finding a renewable material. Our paper reliance has lead to deforestation, for example, one print of the New York Times Sunday addition requires 75,000 trees! Our hope was to find a refill container that was completely paper, but the disadvantages with paper is holding liquids over time. What we hoped to find has not been created just yet.
After evaluating all of these materials, we chose a plastic and paper refill container because we felt it had the lowest impact on the environment. The paper exterior is recycled, and compostable. The inner plastic lining is shelf stable and allows you to keep the product on your shelf for months on end. When you’re done with it, the very minimal amount of plastic can be recycled. Even though we are not able to eliminate plastic completely in our refill system, it is 80% better than using a plastic jug, and we felt, a better alternative to a tin can or aluminum container that would leave quite a bit more material left over to recycled.
Our plan is to give customers an option to eliminate the refill container by offering refill stations and selling our products into refilleries. Stay tuned for the even bigger bulk sizes coming and local refill stations near you.
The current state is not perfect. We’d love to get to a place where we don’t need plastic at all. But we are not there yet. Our commitment is to keep #doingbetter and searching for the perfect solution. If you have any ideas, please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org