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Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream
Environment Sustainability

Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics Because ‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announces their plan to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year by quickly halting its use of single-use plastics. The Vermont-based company, with a long track record of political and environmental activism, wants to inspire change by being the example. Not only is it banning plastic spoons and straws this year, but also clear plastic cups, plastic-lined cups and plastic lids by the end of 2020.

Greenpeace praised the brand in response to the initiative, admiring them for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world’s mounting plastic problem. Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar said in an emailed press release:

“Ben & Jerry’s and forward-thinking companies around the world are starting to prioritize the reduction of plastics, rather than relying on additional recycling measures that keep the flow of plastics coming.”

Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, Jenna Evans, noted that Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops currently hand out 2.5 million plastic straws a year, and 30 million plastic spoons. To illustrate this, she describes the quantity in terms of distance:

“If all the plastic spoons used by Ben & Jerry’s in the US were placed end to end, they’d stretch from Burlington, Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida.”

The company realized that something had to be done about this, and Evans is going to be leading their transition away from plastics. Ben & Jerry’s is moving away from single-use plastic by discontinuing the offering of plastic straws and spoons in its more than 600 Scoop Shops worldwide in early 2019. Evans explains:

“We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem. We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group added:

“Single-use plastics are a pollution threat unlike anything we’ve seen before. Across the globe, discarded plastics are choking our environment and threatening wildlife. The only solution is to stop using them. That’s why Ben & Jerry’s plan to move away from single-use plastics is exactly the kind of leadership we need. We urge other businesses to follow Ben & Jerry’s example and kick the plastics habit.”

Plastic Straws

According to their press release, Ben & Jerry’s has already embarked on its plan to get out of single-use plastic in its Scoop Shops with the schedule as follows:

  • August 2018—Scoop Shops made plastic straws available by request only. Many Scoop Shops had already transitioned to plastic alternatives by this time.
  • By April 9, 2019 (Free Cone Day!)—Scoop Shops will complete the transition to wooden spoons. Paper straws will be available by request only.
  • By the end of 2020—Ben & Jerry’s will find an alternative to clear plastic cups, plastic-lined cups, and plastic lids.

As an aspiring social justice company, Ben & Jerry’s believes in a greater calling and already has a history of striving for more sustainable packaging solutions. Pints and “tubs” (as Ben & Jerry’s container is known in the UK and Europe) have been made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paperboard since 2009.

Unfortunately, the paperboard tubs are difficult to recycle because they are coated with polyethylene to create a moisture barrier. But, Ben & Jerry’s is currently looking at options to solve this problem. “Over the past year, we have begun an intensive effort to find a biodegradable and compostable coating that meets our product quality requirements,” Evans said.

The company is aware that the plastic pollution problem is much larger than the spoons and straws they have been handing out. The fact is, of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to one recent study. On top of that, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers. The reality still stands though that every company‘s efforts combined will make a difference. Evans explains:

“In the short term, eliminating plastic straws and spoons is not going to save the world. But it’s a good start toward changing expectations. We’re committed to exploring additional options to further reduce the use of disposable items. This transition is the first step for us on a more comprehensive journey to eliminate single-use, petroleum-based plastic in our supply chain, and we look forward to reporting on our progress…Thankfully, Ben & Jerry’s has a baked-in solution to plastic waste: it’s called our Waffle Cone…They’re yummy, convenient, and waste-free!”

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