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'We Can't Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem': Ben & Jerry's Bans Single-Use Plastics

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SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's announced major efforts on Monday to quickly curb its use of single-use plastics. By April of this year, its 600-plus Scoop Shops around the world will only offer wooden spoons, rather than plastic ones. Paper straws will also only be available upon request.

All together, the move is expected to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year, Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry's Global Sustainability Manager, said in a press release.


"We're not going to recycle our way out of this problem," she said. "We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic."

Evans explained that if all the plastic spoons used by Ben & Jerry's U.S. shops were placed end to end, they'd stretch from Burlington, Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida.

The Vermont-based company, which has a long track record of political and environmental activism, also announced today it will phase out clear plastic cups, plastic-lined cups and plastic lids by the end of 2020.

Although its tubs of ice cream have been made of Forest Stewardship Council Certified paperboard since 2009, they are coated with polyethylene to create a moisture barrier, making them difficult to recycle.

Evans said Ben & Jerry's is looking at biodegradable and compostable coating options that "meets our product quality requirements."

In response to the initiative, Greenpeace praised the brand for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world's mounting plastic problem.

"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," Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar said in an emailed press release.

We've all been taught that recycling is an important environmental responsibility, but 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. What's more, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers.

"In the short term, eliminating plastic straws and spoons is not going to save the world," Evans continued. "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," she added. "They're yummy, convenient, and waste-free!"

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