Method's new "ocean plastic" bottle a game changer in sustainability

The use of recycled plastic is gaining momentum in consumer goods packaging, but the bottle for Method's new 2-in-1 Dish + Hand Soap rewrites the script in a bold new way by linking specific anti-pollution efforts to a unique new "ocean plastic" pack. With awareness of ocean pollution on the rise and a key consumer concern at present, this innovative new pack is likely to have particular appeal.

Plastic has become a favorite packaging material because it is light and strong; however, it has one very big downside: it floats. Each year, millions of tons of plastic garbage make their way into oceans and other waterways around the globe, and the problem has become so bad that an area of the north central Pacific Ocean known for its circular currents that trap floating plastic debris has been dubbed the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Recently, the patch saw an influx of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

While it is probably not realistic to expect Method's new "ocean plastic" bottle for its Method 2-in-1 Dish + Hand Soap to make a serious dent in the so-called "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," the world's first bottle made from a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic creates a rare "one plus one equals three" moment in sustainability; indeed, the package is one of the first to overtly link a specific and visible type of pollution with a unique new product package.

According to Method, the plastic used in its new ocean plastic bottle comes (in part) from plastic that was hand-collected on the beaches of Hawaii by local clean-up groups and volunteers. Method worked with packaging partner Envision Plastics to combine this plastic waste with other post-consumer recycled plastic to produce a distinctive gray resin for its ocean plastic bottles.

"In recent years, a growing number of consumer packaged goods have featured packaging made from post-consumer recycled plastic, but this has become common enough that it barely registers with many consumers today," notes Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director for Datamonitor. "However, Method's use of ocean plastic really throws down the gauntlet by linking a specific type of garbage with a specific product package, allowing consumers to engage with the issue of sustainability in a more specific way. Consumers are much more likely to see this as a 'win-win' that shines light on a major pollution issue while allowing them to play a small part in making things better."

Consumers globally have a high interest in pollution, as well as the use of recycled materials in product packaging. According to Datamonitor's 2011 Global Consumer Survey, 61% of consumers said that "recycled" - as in the use of recycled materials for product packaging - was either a "very important" or "important" factor when it comes to environmentally friendly packaging.

In some ways, Method's creative use of recycled plastic mirrors that of another company that is making waves on the "green" front: Levi Strauss is preparing to launch a new line of jeans made with recycled plastic bottles in early 2013. The jeans - dubbed Waste<Less Jeans - will contain at least 20% recycled plastic, according to Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Waste from approximately eight crushed brown and green plastic bottles will find their way into each pair of Levi Strauss Waste<Less Jeans. The use of recycled content is so high that the sheen of the jeans actually changes after repeated washing so that more of the color of the recycled bottles shines through.

"The use of specific types of garbage for products and packaging could spark a huge new wave of product innovation," notes Datamonitor's Vierhile. "The ability to turn specific types of garbage into marketable products may also breathe new life into the concept of zero waste manufacturing while encouraging more consumer buy-in at the same time."