Every minute, all over the world, enough plastic to fill a garbage truck flows into our oceans from rivers and streams and, on land, nearly 80 percent of recyclable plastic still winds up in landfills. The pollution issue has never been worse. But we humans are a curious species, bent on solving as many problems as we cause, and the idea that innovation loves a crisis is more evident today than ever when it comes to dealing with the plastics predicament.
The durability of plastic is part of the problem but it's also a big part of the solution and manufacturers are embracing this dichotomy to produce practical products on a large scale that meet a growing demand for sustainability.
Outdoor furniture company Polywood has committed to recycling 1 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic by 2021 by launching the Ocean Chair, and outdoor Adirondack chair made completely from ocean-bound plastics. For each chair made, 1,000 single-use plastic containers are saved from the sea. The Ocean chair is available in 11 fade-proof colors and features a curated series of four Adirondack chairs that create a cresting wave when arranged together. Sunshine Furniture in Vero Beach is one of only two showrooms on the Treasure Coast where the collection is available. Owner, Gail Williams says they also use this collection for many commercial jobs.
“This category in outdoor furniture is extremely popular because it is almost maintenance-free and is perfect for our Florida climate.” She also adds that Polywood is not the only brand they carry in this type of furniture. “We also have Berlin Gardens and Seaside which have the same footprint and philosophy.”
Global flooring manufacturer Mohawk is an industry leader in sustainability. The company recycles 7.1 billion pounds of material per year including 5.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles it uses to make durable poly-fiber carpeting. The company’s Everstrand product is made nearly 100 percent out of PET plastic bottles.
“I’ve seen the manufacturing process in person. It’s fascinating and really impressive,” says Deby Winter, owner of Carpet and Tile Warehouse in Vero Beach. The new poly fiber made from PET plastic is even more durable and, according to Mohawk, makes a stronger yarn than other plastics. “Customers are embracing sustainable products like these carpets and visit our store specifically asking to see them.” Carpet and Tile Warehouse also carries a unique line of products made from recycled glass that mimic the look of pebble, often used in shower floors. This eliminates the additional use of chemicals since the product does not need to be sealed.
Other companies from startups to big household brands are leaders in reducing ocean-bound or sourced plastics. Girlfriend Collective is an emerging athleisure startup known for its affordable athletic wear made from recycled plastics, and Patagonia has been recycling plastic soda bottles into fleece since 1993. In 2015, Adidas partnered with the environmental organization, Parley for the Oceans to turn marine pollution into sportswear. In 2019 they produced over 11 million sneakers made of plastic fished out of the ocean.
Often, the best solutions are the result of extraordinary challenges and one thing is certain; progress often springs from extraordinary failure. Fortunately, in the sustainable and creatively sourced home goods market, choices are multiplying by the day but those buying decisions are ultimately up to all of us.