Everybody talks about the harm that plastics do to the environment but few do anything about the problem. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was started by a couple of tree hugging socialists from Vermont but is now owned by agribusiness giant Unilever. But that doesn’t mean the company, which is a tiny part of the Unilever corporate constellation, has forgotten its roots.
Last year, the company handed out 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons. If all the plastic spoons used by Ben & Jerry’s in the US were placed end to end, they would stretch from Burlington, Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida, according to a company press release. Last fall, it stopped handing out plastic straws except on request.
Now, it is taking its campaign to reduce the amount of plastic it uses in its 600 Scoop Shops around the world to the next level. On April 9, it will stop using plastic spoons altogether, using wooden spoons instead. And it will provide paper straws but only on request.
“We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic,” says Ben & Jerry’s sustainability director Jenna Evans. “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.”
The company currently uses paperboard containers sourced from Forest Stewardship Council suppliers to serve and package its products, but they are coated with a thin film of polyethylene to make them waterproof. The plastic layer makes them difficult to recycle. “Over the past year, we have begun an intensive effort to find a biodegradable and compostable coating that meets our product quality requirements,” Evans says.
“Single-use plastics are a pollution threat unlike anything we’ve seen before,” says Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “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.”
For those who want to help support the move to a plastic free business model, visit a Ben & Jerry’s near you on April 9 and get a free ice cream cone. Evans says the company has the perfect alternative to paper cups and tops with plastic linings — the waffle cones. “They’re yummy, convenient, and waste-free!”