Recent years have seen a significant shift towards social responsibility and conscious consumerism, and an encouraging uptick in businesses and their customers adopting and embracing practices that are better for our planet.
Nevertheless, as an individual, all it takes is one compelling news item or powerful image to become disheartened by the scale of the problem, and to start thinking the decisions we make at the checkout don’t make a huge difference.
Malcolm Everts, sustainability manager at Cottonsoft and chair of The Packaging Forum’s Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme doesn’t disagree, conceding that one individual swapping from plastic- to paper-wrapped toilet tissue “is not going to change the world”. Make that a group of individuals working together, however, and he says that the impact might surprise you. He gives the example of Cottonsoft’s EarthSmart 360° toilet tissue in recyclable paper packaging, which took only 12 months to supersede sales of plastic-wrapped packs, and was a significant contributor to the company reducing plastic packaging waste by 550,000 packs in 2020.
Having since introduced a recyclable paper packaging version of its Paseo 360° toilet tissue, Cottonsoft continues to lead the way with initiatives that support consumers on their sustainability journeys. A big part of this is taking the guesswork out of recycling itself, says Everts, who points to Cottonsoft’s adoption of the ARL (Australasian Recycling Label) system, which clearly communicates to consumers what goes where. Conducive to changing our behaviour in a way that simply buying carbon credit offsets could never achieve, the ARL system’s straightforwardness is key to its success. “There’s even a handy website with a store locator, so shoppers can find out where their closest soft plastic recycling bin is,” says Everts.
Not just preoccupied with packaging, Cottonsoft is also rethinking its products. A consumer category that rightly cops a lot of flak for its contribution to environmental degradation, baby wipes were top of the company’s ‘to-reinvent’ list. Made from renewable fibre rather than the commonly used plastic, its new EarthSmart Aquawipes provide a number 8 wire-style solution to a problem that, in a 2020 nationwide report, was second only to child welfare as the issue New Zealanders were most concerned about*
Before we go patting ourselves on the back for our planet-friendly priorities, however, Everts has a reality check for us. “Build-up of plastic waste in the environment might be a hot topic of conversation among New Zealanders, but we aren’t necessarily walking the talk,” he says. “Loss of biodiversity and the impact of climate change are low on Kiwis’ agendas, possibly thanks to our clean, green heritage.” Our reputation, in other words, has bred complacency, and Everts says this attitude needs to change at the level of the individual.
“While the price of household products like free-range eggs, organic vegetables or sustainably sourced tissue might be higher, the cost of waste is becoming increasingly apparent, and is ultimately borne by society. As consumers, we need to vote with our wallets and support brands’ and businesses’ use of renewable commodities and materials. We need to take individual accountability and not leave our problems for government and industry to solve.”
Whether that’s putting litter in its place, planting more trees, or helping local businesses to implement sustainability-focused solutions, we all have the potential to make a difference, he says. As proof, he points to the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme, of which Cottonsoft is a founding member and which in five years has recycled the equivalent of 200 million packs. “That’s 200 million plastic bags and wrappers not in the landfill,” he says. “That’s a tribute to retailers, suppliers, and consumers all working together.”
* ‘Build-up of plastic in the environment’, Colmar Brunton Better Futures Report 2020
To learn more about Cottonsoft’s EarthSmart initiatives, visit cottonsoft.co.nz