Back in the 70’s Kermit the Frog sung those immortal words and fifty years later they have never been so apt.
In a world of sustainable, fake-news, plant-based, bunny-hugging, green-washing, biodegradable eco-activism actually knowing if the choices we make are genuinely “green” can be tricky.
Lots of “green” words are bandied around and even more opinions about what’s best are vocalised in marketing, media and social networks. Every brand suddenly has super-sustainable, zero-carbon, earth-friendly products bragging about be made entirely from the fluff found down the back of their sofa and that weird juice that collects at the bottom of your food recycling bin.
To be able to confidently talk about our range and to interpret what our supply chain are selling to us firstly we needed to understand it all. Separate the wheat from the chaff to coin an appropriate phrase.
By sharing our findings, warts and all, and by being transparent, we can not only offer a comprehensive range of eco promotional merchandise but also help to educate our customers and ultimately the wider audience. Allowing them to make informed decisions about how they do their bit.
Let’s delve into some terminology and look at the pros, cons and ambiguity of the most common claims.
|What?||The down-low||The Pros||The Cons|
|Let’s start by learning what PET is. This is an abbreviation for the much longer (much less fun) term, polyethylene terephthalate; a polymer of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. |
Clearer terms? PET is the most common type of plastic resin. To create virgin PET, producers extract crude oil and natural gas from the Earth, then process and heat it to form a molten liquid. They spin this liquid into fibres to create polyester fabric, or they mould and solidify it into PET plastic containers.
As a fibre, polyester can be used to make anything from clothing and blankets to sleeping bags and carpeting. We usually call it polyester in this form, whereas in moulded containers, PET is the more common name.
In its plastic form, PET is used to hold anything from your favourite peanut butter or salad dressing to cleaning solution, mouthwash, and medication. All those disposable water bottles - PET. Chances are, most plastic containers in your house are made of this common plastic!
All this pre and post-consumer waste PET is then collected, processed and turned in to RPET. Or Recycled PET. The resulting product is indistinguishable from its virgin counterpart.
|Plastic has been made out to be the baddie. But use of plastic for the right applications should not be ruled out. In fact, when used in the right way it can be far more eco friendly than other “sweet-heart” materials. |
PET is easy to recycle. It’s commonly accepted in recycling centres. Just look for the #1 recycling label.
Recycling plastics reduces the amount of plastic that ends up in landfill and the ocean.
Recycling plastic uses less energy than making it new. Creating a water bottle from recycled plastic uses 75% less energy than its virgin alternative.
|RPET is still plastic. It will be around forever.
Plastic in landfills takes thousands of years to break down and can leach toxic chemicals into the groundwater.
No plastic should ever end up in landfill. Ever.
Microfibers or micro plastics are tiny fibres that cause big problems. Once they find their way into the water they pollute the environment, are in-gested by animals and ultimately are consumed by humans harming our bodies.
|Bioplastics is a sweeping expression for many “biobased polymers”. Some are greener than The Jolly Green Giant’s pants and others are as suspect as VW’s Diesel engine programme.|
They are typically made from renewable biomass such as vegetable fats, sugar cane, corn starch, sawdust and food waste.
You know those packing peanuts that look like Wotsits and smell like Sugar Puffs? Bioplastic.
Another prime example of big companies harnessing plant based plastic is Coca-Cola and its “PlantBottle”.
|Made from renewable and sustainable plant materials rather than finite petroleum oil. |
The carbon footprint of manufacturing bioplastics is reportedly 75% lower than PET and PS.
Some bioplastics are biodegradable and compostable. They can improve soil fertility.
Bioplastics can form a closed-loop lifecycle.
|The raw material for bioplastic requires a lot of farmland to grow. They also use a lot of water to produce.
Whilst growing and during production pollution can be caused by fertilizer, pesticides and other chemicals.
Inevitably bioplastics can end up in landfill. Deprived of oxygen, it can release methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Recycling bioplastic is challenging and currently not economically viable. It requires a separate recycling stream to regular plastic otherwise it stands to contaminate the recycling process.
Contrary to popular belief, Not all Bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable.
|Recycled and/or Recyclable|
|Products can contain recycled metals, plastics, paper or post-consumer waste. Some weird and wonderful examples include cocoa shells, tea leaves, egg shells, orange peel, waste beer and wine and even discarded fishing nets!|
Recyclable products can be returned to a specialist so that the materials can be reclaimed and used again. Many companies and authorities have compressive recycling facilities where a multitude of materials are accepted.
|Recycling reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and consequently the amount of pollution in the environment. |
Recycling is one of the most recognisable processes to consumers and end users. Using recycled materials sends a simple and relatable message to the audience. It also creates awareness and demand for more comprehensive recycling facilities.
Promoting recycling can act as a gateway for the consumer to other environmental activism such as composting or installing solar panels.
The fact a product is recyclable suggests to the recipient that it has been thought about and its environmental impact been considered.
|The term “recycled” is open to some interpretation. Some products may contain materials that are “pre-consumer”. Others may only contain a low percentage of recycled material.
Recycling isn’t always a perfect solution. Recycling PET releases volatile organic compounds into the environment. Bleaching paper uses harmful chem-icals. Kerbside collection, sorting, cleaning and processing waste results in water, soil and air pol-lution.
Sometimes products that claim to be recyclable contain parts that are not. For example a pen body might be, but the spring mechanism may not.
According to the BBC 47% of people have argued at home about what should and should not go in the plastic recycling. The point is, of the 7 plastic groups, only 3 are commonly recyclable.
|Something that can be used more than once. Think cotton shopper bag, a water bottle, those old comfy shoes you’ve had for years, the stained Tupperware in the cupboard, basically anything in your nan's house. ||Single use anything is very much out of favour. Any products that can be used over and over again not only bring multiple impressions from a marketing perspective but reduce the need for more raw materials and resources to be used.|
There is a common phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”. Reuse is the easiest and most efficient of the three. Investing in something of higher value or quality that will stick around and be used on multiple occasions is far more valuable and achieve better ROI than purchasing ultra-low cost giveaways. It’s a false economy.
|Just because it’s reusable doesn’t mean that it has any direct environmental credentials. For example a product made in China using “dirty” energy and flown to the UK has a significant carbon footprint that may out-way the fact it’s used on multiple occasions.|
|Biodegradable refers to a material breaking down with the help of micro-organisms. To be labelled a biodegradable plastic, there is no time limit set on when the product breaks down and these plastics CAN leave behind toxic residue.|
Compostable refers to a material capable of breaking down into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose. Compostable plastic must also disintegrate and become indistinguishable in the compost and CANNOT leave any toxic material behind.
|Both processes reduce the amount of waste to landfill and subsequent pollution of groundwater and the environment.|
Manufacturing these types of materials requires 65% less energy than petroleum products.
Biodegradable and compostable plastics can break down in a matter of months whereas traditional plastics do not. Ever.
Most biodegradable plastics do not use petroleum unlike traditional plastic. Extraction and refinement of oil from the earth is known to have negative impacts on the environment.
Composted materials can improve the quality of the soil and make it more fertile. This can lead to healthier plants requiring less pesticides and fertilizers.
|Processing materials can require specialist, expensive and rare equipment that requires a lot of energy to operate.
Plastics and biodegradable plastics are very difficult to distinguish. They can contaminate one another’s waste streams and result in increased waste volume.
Plastics do not biodegrade in the ocean. Nuff said.
Biodegradable plastic costs more to produce than traditional plastics.
Whilst on face value, “compostable” looks preferable to “biodegradable”, composting can require specific conditions that are not necessarily achievable in a domestic environment. There are two strict definitions of compostable according to British Standards – “Industrial composting” (look for the AFOR compostable logo) and “Home Composting” (look for the Vincotte OK Compost logo. )
|The Jekyll and Hyde of materials.|
Bamboo is a grass. When you harvest bamboo you aren’t killing a plant, you’re basically just mowing the lawn. Bamboo grows really fast. Some bamboo plants can grow 1 meter in a day.
Bamboo takes two forms… Natural wood and chemically processed fabric.
Bamboo as a fabric:
Rayon: The general term for regenerated cellulose fibers. Rayon is considered a semi-synthetic material as the cellulose fibers are natural but always broken down using chemicals.
Viscose: Regenerated cellulose fiber made from wood pulp or plants using the viscose process. The wood pulp is treated with chemicals, filtered, and then spun into thread.
Modal: A stronger version of viscose. Modal is often blended with other textiles, such as cotton and spandex, to make it even stronger.
Lyocell: Similar to viscose and modal, but it is made using a different solvent. Lyocell is produced in a solvent-spinning technique called dry jet-wet spinning.
TENCEL: The branded version of lyocell and modal. TENCEL is often considered the most sustainable way to produce cellulose fiber-based fabrics. It focuses on closed-loop production and using less resource-intensive processes.
|Unprocessed = Good.|
Bamboo absorbs 2x more carbon dioxide than trees, which is why they are known to act as carbon sinks. It also generates a vast amount of oxygen, totalling up to 30% more than most plants and trees.
Bamboo only takes 3-5 years to reach a point where it can be harvested, and as long as your harvest properly you can harvest it forever. This is much faster and more sustainable than trees which take years and years to grow to maturity.
Wood made from bamboo will biodegrade once thrown out. One thing to note is that artificial aspects such as finishes or paint will not be biodegradable.
Bamboo as a plant is naturally pest resistant, 100% biodegradable, antifungal and antibacterial.
|Processed = bad.
Just because it is a “natural” material doesn’t mean it does not have a negative impact on the ecosystem and environment where it was made/grown.
Bamboo products are mostly imported. Which has a negative impact on the environment from transport. Flying bamboo in from China is very eco unfriendly.
Many bamboo products are made with adhesives that contain formaldehyde, which can emit some toxic gasses.
Similar to other types of natural materials, bamboo wood needs to be transported. This causes pollutants to be put into the environment as a result of the shipping and transportation processes.
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has announced that the bamboo fabric takes too long to break down after disposal and therefore cannot be classed as biodegradable.
Lastly, why would you want to deprive a panda of its lunch?
|Cotton is a natural fibre grown as crop in the US, China, India and Turkey amongst others. It is found in bags, clothing and many other applications.||Being a natural fibre, cotton fabric will naturally bi-odegrade unlike the petrochemical based fabrics like polyester. If the soil is cared for properly, it’s also readily renewable and can be grown and regrown for years and years. From a consumer perspective cotton is easy to care for. |
The use of recycled cotton is becoming increasingly important as manufacturers evaluate their supply chain as well as their carbon footprint.
Recycled cotton is a great alternative to regular cotton, since it uses no water or chemicals in its manufacturing process and requires no farmland. Obviously, because this is a recycled product, there are no pesticides involved in its production.
Textile recycling is generated from two primary sources:
Pre-consumer: includes scraps created by yarn and fabric by-products
Post-consumer: includes garments, upholstery, towels, sheets and household items
The largest volume of recycled cotton sources is produced through pre-consumer waste, such as cutting scraps. Post-consumer waste is more difficult to sort through due to various colour shades, fabric blends, and it is generally a more labour-intensive process. Recycled cotton fibres are often shorter than virgin cotton which limits their end-use applications. Frequently, recycled cotton is blended with other textiles to ensure its uniformity, strength and durability.
|The production of cotton is extremely taxing on water and land resources. It can take more than 20,000 liters or 5000 gallons of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.
Cotton production also accounts for 18% of world-wide pesticide use and 25% of total insecticide use.
|80% of our forests have been destroyed or de-graded - half of that took place in the last 30 years alone. |
You just need to know 3 letters. F S C.
The Forestry Stewardship Council protects and manages the sustainable harvesting of timber across the planet.
|Wood is one of the most eco friendly materials we use. It absorbs carbon dioxide while growing. It has multiple applications. It can be recycled and reprocessed. It creates virtually zero waste during production - even the byproducts are valuable. At the end of its useful life it can be burned to produce power and the carbon it releases is equal to that it absorbed during its life - essentially making it carbon neutral.||Unlawful or unmanaged logging destroys primary forests and habitats, reduces biodiversity, threatens ecosystems, endangers plant and animal species and can even fund militia groups.
Burning wood releases particulate matter into the environment in the same way as a diesel car does.
|Made in the UK|
|A tick in the ‘eco’ box needs to consider more than just the material that a product is made from – this is really important.|
Flying anything 5000 miles from China is not great for the environment.
Avoiding one return-transatlantic flight would save approximately 7 times more CO2 than your domestic recycling for 1 year.
|Production in the UK means less transport impact than importing. Think about “food miles”... but for merch!|
British manufacturing is also subject to more stringent regulation.
Manufacturing in the UK uses cleaner energy by contrast 85% of China’s energy comes from non-renewable resources.
Spending money in the UK supports our economy and provides jobs.
|Just because something is made in the UK doesn’t automatically make it better for the environment than an alternative.|
|ECO Packing & Delivery|
|Packing is a necessity for protection, security and transport. |
Consider individual packing, inner boxes, export cartons, pallet, pallet wrap, shipping containers and warehousing.
|Removing individual and single use packing will reduce the amount of waste generated. |
Substituting plastic packing for more recyclable materials like paper and cardboard reduces the environmental impact.
Select a product that requires very minimal packing – such as a travel mug rather than a ceramic mug that needs substantial protection in transit.
Products whose packaging can be reused or re-purposed means no single use and little or no waste. For example tech supplied in a pencil case style pouch.
Allowing time for shipping by sea rather than air dramatically reduces carbon footprint.
Choosing couriers that have made environmental pledges and set targets for sustainability and use eco-routes rather than using dedicated vehicles reduces the carbon emissions.
|Eco packing can be less attractive and difficult to brand.
Eco packing can still be single use.
Packing in bulk (reducing inners and bagging) can increase handling costs.
|An organic product refers to a material or product produced without the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and artificial chemicals. |
Organic products include cotton, confectionery, cosmetics and very occasionally – bioplastic.
|Organic farming is better for the environment. |
Organic materials contain less harmful chemicals.
Organic farming uses significantly less water.
Organic farming encourages biodiversity.
|Organic materials are typically more expensive because yields are smaller.
Organic farming does not have sufficient capacity to supply the whole world’s population.
|Means a fair price is paid by developed countries to the producers in developing countries in exchange for their goods or services.||Fairtrade products eliminate child labour and discrimination within the workforce. |
Social and working conditions are improved.
In the main, fairtrade products are organic and sustainable.
|Cost is often higher for fairly traded products.
Because of the higher cost the target audience is limited.
Very little accountability is enforced on the producers and poor labour practices are thought to be commonplace.
|The practice of abstaining from the use of any animal products, particularly in diet, but also as a lifestyle.||Veganism is a growth market. More and more products are becoming available in a vegan format. |
Buying vegan products show the consumer that all lifestyles have been considered and there is no opportunity to alienate anybody.
Veganism has been proven to dramatically reduce an individual’s carbon footprint.
|Non-vegan ingredients are rife and proving a product with multiple processes involved is very difficult.
Vegan products tend to be more expensive because they are produced in lower volumes.
Non-vegan ingredients can hide in carrier bags, tyres, glue and adhesive, fabric softener, cosmetics and confectionery.
|Forest Stewardship Council:|
FSC® sets specific standards that have to be met by suppliers in the timber trade.
Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification:
PEFC is an umbrella brand incorporating different national certification schemes.
The end goals of both bodies are the same. Both provide schemes to protect forests and ensure end users get the responsibly sourced timber they requested.
|FSC materials give the consumer confidence that the product has come from credible, well managed, socially and environmentally conscious sources.||The FSC certifies commercial tree plantations. Vast areas of monocultures have been certified as “well managed”, despite the impacts on the environment and local communities.
|Probably the best eco benchmark... The carbon footprint is the total amount of green-house gas emissions produced during the entire lifespan of the product from raw material, production, manufacture, delivery, use and disposal or destruction.||Carbon footprint is about the most useful and measurable metric when discussing a product’s environmental credentials. The lower the emissions the more “eco” it is. |
An item’s carbon footprint is the best and fairest way to compare two eco products.
|Accurately measuring the footprint is very difficult, expensive and time consuming.
A carbon neutral product is most likely to have utilised a carbon offset scheme. There are mixed opinions on the adequacy of some of these schemes.
Offsetting can also be an excuse for indulgence rather than a reason to actively try and reduce a footprint.
Our interpretation of what “Sustainable” means:
According to Wikipedia sustainability means that a process or state can be maintained at a certain level for as long as is wanted. Think perpetual motion. There are often 3 pillars referred to – People, Planet and Profit. For something to be sustainable it needs to provide an environmental, social or economic benefit.
From a promotional merchandise perspective a sustainable product would be something that has been conscientiously manufactured and delivered, by a factory that protects its workforce and its surroundings, that has a decent useful lifespan and limits the impact on the environment at the end of its life.
That’s a lot of boxes to tick. The fact is there is no magic solution. Everything has an impact.
Our interpretation of what terms like “Green” and “Eco” actually mean:
In a nutshell they are broad terms for something that claims to be better for the environment than an alternative. Note the words “better for”. Not necessarily “good for”. Whilst, generally speaking, that is the case, it’s all about point of reference and a little bit about personal opinion.
Understanding Waste Management:
The waste pyramid demonstrates responsible waste management and can be used to make decisions on purchasing. For example the ideal use of plastic is to make a reusable product (such as a sports bottle rather than a single use disposable bottle). At the end of its life all plastic should be recycled, currently in the UK only about 40% of material can be recycled (and nowhere near this figure is actually reaching the correct place). The next band of the pyramid is widely miss understood- recovery. Technology currently exists to incinerate plastic waste which can’t be recycled generating electricity from the energy generated. These processes filter out all dangerous waste and are totally carbon neutral. There is basically no reason why plastic should enter landfill!
How we’re doing our bit:
We are only too aware that historically promotional merchandise has been perceived as cheap crap from China. But the landscape has changed. Premier is an ISO14001 certified organisation, which means we have an environmental management system to control the impact of our operations on the environment.
Alongside our product offering we employ a variety of practices to reduce our impact. Such as:
- All our cleaning materials are plant based.
- The boss drives an electric vehicle.
- Our office waste is segmented and recycled with ZERO waste going to landfill.
- We are a paperless office.
- We use LED low-energy lighting.
- We use recycled consumables (like loo paper!)
- Our milk is delivered in glass, reusable bottles.
- Our marketing materials and packaging are recycled and/or recyclable.
But that’s just the start. Our energy contract is moving over to renewable sources. Our courier is rolling out a carbon-offset service. We are working with the local community on various initiatives to benefit our surroundings and the environment.
Nobody is perfect. But we genuinely care. And we’re always looking for ways to better ourselves.
Do something. Something is better than nothing. Be open minded.
Do you research, ask questions, consult our professionals, don’t be green-washed, don’t make snap decisions based on current media scaremongering.
Consider the entire life of the item from raw-material to disposal.
Ask yourself is a short-life “eco” product flown in from China really better than something infinitely reusable, made of plastic, in Birmingham? We think not.
It all comes back to knowing your stuff and most importantly knowing what’s best for you and your objectives.