The War on Plastic: Five Great Brands Providing Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Single-Use-Plastic

Single-Use-Madness

It’s actually quite amazing how many different materials can be used instead of plastic to replace some of the items we use every single day. It would make you wonder why on earth we ever resorted to plastic in the first place.

You use it for a fleeting moment, and then it remains as a scar on nature for the rest of conceivable time. The oceans filled, the landscapes stained, the animals strangled, a world gone insane. 

Single-use-plastic is one of the most ridonkulous, disgusting, absurd, and unnecessary evils our crazy crazy consume-as-much-as-possible-and-then-consume-some-more-just-for-the-laugh-focused world has ever dared to dream up, but thankfully, people are beginning to see sense. 

Even better than that, people are beginning to take action, and I’m not just talking about taking action as ‘consumers’. People have jumped over to the production side of the crazy coin and started coming up with innovative ideas and launching companies that offer alternatives to single-use-plastic. Alternatives that respect the planet instead of polluting it. 

It’s actually quite amazing how many different materials can be used instead of plastic to replace some of the items we use every single day. It would make you wonder why on earth we ever resorted to plastic in the first place. Sigh.

But anyways, enough with the problematic plastic past and on to the fortifying fabulous future!

Here’s what the average beach might look like in the future if these new single-use-plastic battling companies have their way. Notice? There’s no plastic anywhere! Sadly this often isn’t the case when you go to the beach in reality, but if more and more people start using the kinds of eco-friendly plastic alternatives in this article, we can start building a world where every beach looks like this! (Okay so the beaches in Ireland are never going to look this tropical, and there’s inevitably going to be the good old grey cloudy sky and raindrops in the background, but as long as they’re plastic-free that’s all the tropical I need!

Here are five fantastic emerging companies who are leading the charge against single-use-plastic, and for the purpose of outlining the sheer number of alternative materials available to us, each company I have chosen is using a different material as a plastic alternative. So enjoy and delight in the beautiful planet-cleaning variety on offer!

Biofase – Cutlery and Straws made from Avocado Pits 

Biofase offer biodegradable cutlery and straws (on the left) made from Avocado pits and biodegradable bags (on the right) made from cassava starch.

Ever go into a shop or a restaurant or a cafe on a super busy day and order your tiramisu kebab and pineapple milkshake to go and then eat it at the speed of sound with a plastic knife and fork and straw and then throw these indestructible single-use-utensils in the bin so they can litter the earth for the rest of eternity? 

Okay, so maybe you didn’t order exactly that for lunch, but we can all admit that we’ve used the single-use-utensils at least once before. We live in a pronto pronto world people, where convenience is key so we can get things done before we know we have to do them and until they pass a law stating that everyone has to keep their best silverware on them at all times (not the worst idea?), disposable cutlery is going to be a part of that world. 

So how can we make disposable cutlery that doesn’t harm the environment? Well, enter Biofase. Biofase makes biodegradable cutlery and straws out of avocado pits. Flipping avocado pits for crying out sustainably! 

By utilising avocado pits, a material that would otherwise just end up as food waste, Biofase have actually found an alternative to plastic that doesn’t require the chopping down of any extra forests or harvesting of any extra raw materials.

According to the good folks at Biofase: 60% of the material in these utensils naturally biodegrades within 240 days and the rest takes a little bit longer, but fantastically, no smelly smelly microplastics are created by these products!

The product will biodegrade into a nutrient-rich organic material called humus, which creates a healthy soil environment for new plant growth. If it ends up in the landfill it will biodegrade with the other products around it and if it goes to the incinerator it does not emit methane gas.

By utilising avocado pits, a material that would otherwise just end up as food waste, Biofase have actually found an alternative to plastic that doesn’t require the chopping down of any extra forests or harvesting of any extra raw materials. The avocados have already been produced for consumption, and Biofase is just turning the leftover bits into these eco-friendly utensils.

Whenever possible, it’s probably best to avoid disposable utensils altogether and use the good old fashioned stainless steel versions from ancient times, but when there is a need for disposable utensils, making them out of food waste is probably as environmentally friendly as you’re gonna get.

Cutlery, made from avocado pits!

And remember, no innocent avocados are harmed in the making of these planet-friendly, single-use-plastic banishing utensils, as the avocados involved have already been used for consumption. 

Biofase also offers a plastic bag alternative that looks and feels like plastic but is actually made entirely from cassava starch and other natural ingredients and contains absolutely zero plastic whatsoever. The bags dissolve in water, soil, or landfill under natural conditions. So why in the heck are we still using plastic bags at all? There’s really no excuse. Get these cassava starch bags into the shops double pronto I say!

Biofase is a Mexican company but based all around the world, and below are links to the Mexican website and also the UK based branch. To avocado pits, and beyond!

Biofase Mexico Website: https://www.biofase.com.mx/
Biofase UK Website: https://4eco.uk.com/

VirtueBrush – Toothbrushes made from Bamboo

The VirtueBrush, a 100% Biodegradable toothbrush made out of bamboo!

Okay so toothbrushes may not be single-use-plastic, but they are ‘only-a-few-times-use-plastic’, a term I’ve just coined that’s sure to become mainstream within the week, I’m telling you, just you watch. Cough. And plastic toothbrushes are not recyclable. Every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever used still exists somewhere, clogging up some river or ocean crevice and leaking its smelly microplastics all over its disgusted neighbours. I mean I thought toothbrushes were supposed to keep things clean?

Well they certainly can. We don’t have to make toothbrushes out of plastic you know? There are plenty of alternative materials, and a very suitable one seems to be bamboo.

Not only is VirtueBrush battling the relentless plastic toothbrush army by offering a bamboo alternative that naturally biodegrades, they are also working with ‘Trees for the Future’ to plant three trees per VirtueBrush sold online and one tree per brush sold in retail shops.

When grown and harvested in the right way, bamboo is an incredibly sustainable material for a number of wonderful reasons:

– It grows flipping fast, up to 3.5 feet a day, and reaches full size in 3-5 years. 

– It regenerates from its own roots so doesn’t need to be replanted.

– It doesn’t require any chemical fertilisers for cultivation.

– It sequesters a whole load of CO2 from the atmosphere as it grows.

– It produces up to 35% more oxygen than an equivalent sized tree.

– It can be grown in nearly every region of this great green gargantuan earth.

So clearly, bamboo has a lot to offer, and there are a number of companies currently offering bamboo toothbrushes and other products, but Dublin based VirtueBrush is a particularly interesting one. 

Not only is VirtueBrush battling the relentless plastic toothbrush army by offering a bamboo alternative that naturally biodegrades, they are also working with ‘Trees for the Future’ to plant three trees per VirtueBrush sold online and one tree per brush sold in retail shops. This ensures that any carbon emissions created through the creation and shipping of the toothbrushes is accounted for. So that’s less plastic rotting in the oceans, and more trees sucking in CO2 on land. A pretty virtuous combination if you ask me.

When you use a VirtueBrush, not only are you helping reduce the amount of plastic in the world, you are also helping the not-for-profit organisation ‘Trees for the Future’ with land regeneration, community revitalising, tree planting initiatives around the globe. Now that’s a pretty wonderful combination! Above are some folks from Trees for the Future in Kenya celebrating the organisations 30th birthday party, by, you guessed it, planting more trees! It’s a really wonderful initiative and VirtueBrush are helping to make it possible.

The VirtueBrush itself is composed of a 100% “moso bamboo’ handle, and dental grade nylon bristles. The handle is biodegradable, and after removing the bristles, you can just throw the handle in the compost or use it as fire kindling once you’re done with it. The packaging is also 100% recyclable white cardboard and contains zero plastic.

Trees for the Future by the way is a not-for-profit that since 1989 has planted over 115 million trees around the world, using a ‘forest garden approach‘ to regenerating land and helping to revitalise local communities in the process. You can learn more about them and VirtueBrush through some nice little links provided below. But now that we’ve finally managed to clean our teeth without destroying the planet, it’s time to smile, and move on. (And that’s a pearly white super-sustainable smile by the way!)

VirtueBrush Website: https://virtuebrush.com/
Trees for the future Website: https://trees.org/

Ecovative Design – Packaging (and other things) made from Mushrooms 

Oh cool, just look at that, it’s a wine bottle surrounded by styrofoam packaging, how amazing. Well guess again buster! That ain’t no styrofoam, that’s mycelium baby! (Ecovative actually grow packaging and all sorts of other cool products out of mushrooms, now how amazing is that?)

Hahaha you know what? I just got the name. All they had to do was switch the c with the v and they turned ‘evocative’ into ‘Ecovative’. Clever clever super-clever. And what these guys are doing is certainly evocative, and eco-friendly. And clever. 

Packaging can be a real pain in the planet. In the EU alone in 2016, 16.3 million tonnes of plastic waste was generated, and 170kg of packaging waste (all materials) was generated per person. 170kg of waste PER PERSON in only ONE YEAR just from packaging, and a lot of that was plastic. And I’m sure we’ve all heard that notorious statistic that 91% of plastic worldwide does not get recycled! This is all very damning stuff really, but enough with the statistics, and on with the solutions! 

Ecovative Design is a New York-based ‘biomaterials company’ that harnesses the power of mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, to grow ‘advanced materials’ that can be used to replace plastic in multiple industries. As well as packaging, this super-adaptable material can be used in the skincare industry, for textiles, clothes, and even to create meat alternatives.

No microplastics involved when it comes to the disposal of this mycelium-based packaging, just tiny pieces of nutrient-rich mushroom goodness dissolving back into the great green earth instead. Now that’s a plastic alternative I can get on board with.

With regard to the ‘mushroom packaging’, it can be grown in 9 days to a custom shape, and is flame-resistant, water-resistant, and unlike our good old arch nemesis plastic over there in the naughty corner, this packaging is completely biodegradable. Ecovative even offers a ‘grow-it-yourself’ kit where you can grow your own mushroom packaging at home! I mean does it get any better than that? It kind of does make a whole lot of sense that if you’re growing your packaging out of natural ingredients, it’s not going to do much harm to the planet when the time comes for it to break back down into little pieces. 

So no microplastics involved when it comes to the disposal of this mycelium-based packaging, just tiny pieces of nutrient-rich mushroom goodness dissolving back into the great green earth instead. Now that’s a plastic alternative I can get on board with.

You might have read recently actually that Ikea has replaced their polystyrene packaging with mushroom-based packaging? Well it’s Ecovative Design who are behind that truly wonderful development! 

Ecovative make all sorts of stuff out of mushrooms, even these super groovy looking lamp shades. I mean who knew you could make all this stuff out of mushrooms? I mean seriously, at this stage, I think it’s time to say a permanent goodbye to Mr and Mrs plastic. We don’t need them anymore!!!

Really lovely stuff altogether. And you know I actually wrote an article a while back about the wonders (or the magic?) of mushrooms and all the ways they can help both people and the planet. From treating depression to cleaning up oil spills to ‘eating’ plastic waste, it’s super interesting stuff. If you’d like to read about that in detail (go on, goooooo on, you know you want to) then just click right here, and if you wanna check out Ecovative Design and all the wonderful things they’re doing I’ve very kindly provided a link to their website below. 

Wow. This plastic-free world is looking pretty lovely so far really isn’t it? Maybe we don’t need to use plastic for anything anymore, ever again? Ever? Just wait there for a second though, I’m gonna go grab a coffee.

Ecovative Design Website: https://ecovativedesign.com/

rCUP – Reusable Coffee Cups made from Used Coffee Cups

These funky looking colourful cups, flasks, mugs or whatever you wanna call them are actually made out of used coffee cups, helping to cut down on single-use-plastic waste and lay the foundations for a circular economy for disposable cups as well. Now I’ll drink to that. Tea anyone?

Okay I’m finished my coffee. But what should I do with the cup?? It’s one of those disposable paper cups but it’s got a flipping plastic lid and the inside of the cup is lined with a plastic coating so the cup can’t be recycled. Flip it! I guess I’ll just have to throw it on the landfill then. Well not if UK based eco-friendly, planet-loving, circular economy-embracing ‘rCUP’ has anything to do with it! (Also I didn’t actually use a disposable unrecyclable coffee cup in the making of this article. I filled my ceramic cup full of tea instead!) 

As I mentioned so theatrically above, most disposable coffee cups cannot be recycled because they are lined with a thin plastic coating on the inside to stop the hot liquid seeping through the cup. Most also come with a big chunky plastic top as well, which is no fun for anybody, least of all the planet. According to the BBC last year, 99.75% of coffee cups are not recycled. I mean my goodness, that’s basically all coffee cups not being recycled. Ridiculous. 

But thankfully, rCUP has come up with a solution that not only provides an eco-friendly alternative to disposable coffee cups, but also helps put old coffee cups to good use so they don’t end up on the rubbish tip.

rCUP really is killing two plastic birds with one perfectly circular stone here because as well as creating a product that will reduce the overall demand for disposable cups, they’re also helping to form the infrastructure needed to make disposable cups recyclable, and therefore, circular.

rCUP make high-quality reusable cups out of old single-use cups. These ‘rCUPs’ are super resilient, and maintain all the qualities you would want in a reusable cup. They’re 100% leak-proof, robust, keep drinks warm or cool, and can be picked up when the contents are very hot. rCUP is the only company that makes reusable cups out of coffee cups, and the idea is to create a circular economy for coffee cups.

As rCUP states on its website, ‘by creating products from used cups we’ve stimulated the demand for the once worthless used paper cup. This demand increases the value of used paper cups, which enables recycling firms to invest in the infrastructure required to recycle them.’ 

So rCUP really is killing two plastic birds with one perfectly circular stone here because as well as creating a product that will reduce the overall demand for disposable cups, they’re also helping to form the infrastructure needed to make disposable cups recyclable, and therefore, circular. The reusable rCUP itself can also be entirely recycled into a new rCUP at the end of its life, which rCUP say will be at least 10 years. So the rCUP is not only a wonderful alternative to disposable coffee cups and the single-use-plastic they contain, it is also leading the way towards a more circular economy, which is a tremendously wonderful thing. 

Not that you ever would throw it into the bushes, because why would anyone ever do that? This isn’t just some one-time-use disposable you know! But the rCUP even looks kind of nice surrounded by leaves and plants and stuff. Something that certainly doesn’t hold true with plastic bottles and paper cups!

I’ve actually written at length about the circular economy and how exciting it is here if you fancy a peak, and you can find out more about rCUP through the link below. rCUP is created by an award-winning design company called ‘ashortwalk’ based in Cornwall in England, and they’re doing lots of other interesting stuff too so I’ve included their website below as well. Absolutely fabulous stuff so far, but to be honest, I’m getting kind of hungry now. Time for a takeaway I think!

rCUP Website: https://www.rcup.co.uk/
ashortwalk Website:  https://www.ashortwalk.com/

Ark Reusables – Reusable Takeaway Containers made from Silicone 

These Ark Reusable containers are made from 100% recyclable silicone and can be used as a replacement for disposable food containers that hold your dinner for all of five minutes and then spend the rest of eternity clogging up the planet in landfills or the ocean or your local park. The more reusables we can use, the better!

Doooooooon’t worry, I’ll leave the theatrics out this time and get right down to business. A lot of disposable food containers are made from styrofoam or different forms of plastic. Not only can this affect your personal health by leaking lots of horrible plastic chemicals into your food, but it also harms the health of the planet. According to the National Resources Defence Council in the US, 269,000 tonnes of plastic pollution is currently floating in the oceans and waterways of the world as a result of plastic litter from ‘takeout’ orders in the US alone. A gargantuan amount of plastic. 

Fortunately, a lot of food places lately seem to be adopting more environmentally friendly containers made out of compostable materials like sugarcane, wood, paper, even banana leaves, and all sorts of other things as well. But what about forgoing the disposable container altogether and bringing your own?

This may not always be the best option as reusable containers can often be made from plastic themselves and can be pretty bulky and a pain in the convenience to transport, but Amsterdam based startup Ozarka offers a nifty solution to these problems in the form of the ‘Ark Reusable’ container. 

By combining wonderful innovations like the Ark Reusable with planet-friendly disposables, we can go a long way towards making convenience food convenient for the planet as well as for us humans.

The Ark Reusable is a beautifully designed container made from 100% food-safe silicone. (Silicone is made out of sand, does not give off nasty chemicals, and does not break down into microplastics, and you can learn more about it here, and here) It is dishwasher safe, oven and microwave safe, freezer safe and pretty much folds completely flat when empty so it’s easy to transport. The ‘Ark’ also comes with a lifetime guarantee and is 100% recyclable. Ozarka also offers recycling services for the products once you’re done using them. 

The idea is that you bring this container with you when you’re grabbing your super-fast on-the-go lunch and hand it to the food vendor instead of using one of the wasteful disposable containers on offer. Ozarka say that they have ‘spoken with dozens of chefs and food vendors, and found huge excitement around reusable containers. The interest is there, it just needs the right system, the right containers, and a shift in how people think about waste.’ So it does sound promising that with a little shift in everyone’s thinking, we could make disposable food containers a thing of the past entirely. 

The Ark Reusable containers fold nearly flat when empty so they’re incredibly portable, making them very convenient. And that’s what it’s all about really isn’t it? Convenience!

But there will always be a time when you need to grab your dinner on the go and you just don’t have your disposable container with you you say? We can’t just keep these silicone containers strapped to our bodies at all times you say? Well you’re dead right, that would be absolutely absurd! But whenever we can’t use a disposable container, we can put pressure on food vendors to start using any of the plastic-free, biodegradable options mentioned above. By combining wonderful innovations like the Ark Reusable with planet-friendly disposables, we can go a long way towards making convenience food convenient for the planet as well as for us humans.

And just like with all the other sections in this article, below is a link to the Ozarka and Ark Reusables websites so ‘ye can have a wee look for yerselves.’ (Not sure who I’m quoting there, maybe myself, but sure why not?)

Ozarka Website: https://www.ozarka.club/
Ark Reusables Website: https://arkreusables.com/

To a Plastic-Free Future 

Whenever possible, it’s much better to avoid disposable products altogether and use a more permanent option, but we all know that’s not possible 100% of the time. This is a crazy world we live in after all. But when we do have to use disposable products, from what we’ve seen in this article, there is really no reason at all that we should have to use plastic.

Products such as the rCUP and the Ark Reusable are great examples of how reusable products can make the planet a better place, and Biofase, VirtueBrush and Ecovative Design show us that there’s really no need to make any of our single-use or ‘only-a-few-times-use’ (told you it would catch on) products out of plastic at all. There are plenty of other, better materials out there to choose from. 

As the chorus of this song written from the perspective of single-use-plastic itself proclaims, “Single-use-plastic, I am indestructible, a momentary use, for a permanent object.” A momentary use, for a permanent object. That explains the ridiculousness of the whole thing really. 

So it’s great to see that there are now loads of forward-thinking companies out there who are taking a moment, to come up with ideas that can lead us to a more sustainable, ‘just-don’t-use-plastic’ future. And then keep us there, permanently. 

Maybe ‘just-don’t-use-plastic’ is more likely to catch on?

Well, I certainly hope so.

About the Author

Adam Millett is a freelance writer for hire with an affinity for dressing up as Spiderman and writing about saving the planet. He likes to climb trees and stare at the stars in his spare time and likes to help businesses tell their sustainability stories while he’s working. Visit his website at wordchameleon.com if you want to tell the world yours.

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