For more than 13 years, Preserve has been a leader in recycling plastics to use in their products like toothbrushes and razors. After years spent making personal care products, Preserve surveyed its customers to find out where else they'd like to see their products, and expanded its offerings into home accessories, like their line of kitchen products. Their Everyday Tableware line, which was recently launched in Target as part of its back-to-college promotion, was designed in partnership with Evo Design and addresses a unique challenge for the affordable tableware market: It's made from recycled plastic yet sturdy enough to withstand years of everyday use.
A TIME TO KEEP
Surveying the current state of tableware, Preserve realized the perceived flimsiness of plastic was their biggest enemy. Hosting consumer studies using about 20 plates of all shapes and sizes on the market, Preserve had consumers rank them from plates they would likely throw away, to ones they would keep around for longer. They quickly realized that there was a "sweet spot" where a plate felt hefty enough to last, yet still used the minimal amount of materials. "We weighed them," says Ben Anderson, Preserve's director of product management and development, who began what was to be a fascinating process working closely with the engineers at Evo Design to find that perfect balance. "We agonized over every gram of plastic in the line." In order to decide the thickness of the tableware line, Preserve conducted single factor Life Cycle Assessments to assess Everyday Tableware's environmental impact and how more material and prolonged product life affects the line's environmental impact.
But there were also emotional reasons why people tossed their plates after just a few uses. One concern was that a plate wouldn't be able to withstand multiple trips through the dishwasher. But others were purely aesthetic. "'There are knife marks on my plate,' or 'They look too worn out to stay in my cabinet,'" remembers Preserve's senior product development associate Christie Lee as some of the explanations people gave. "We realized we really had to take the time to design them to prolong product use."
The task to design a series of tableware that told its user to hold onto it fell upon the shoulders of Evo Design's Aaron Szymanski. "One benefit we had with Preserve is that we had the luxury of finding that form," says Szymanski of the extended development period that Preserve dedicated to the project. "We were able to find a shape that was less manufactured-looking, organic, softer, and approachable." To give a tactile cue that these plates should get extra attention, Szymanski created a lip that lowers down from the rim, giving users a special place for their hands to land on the pieces. "It makes the piece a bit more attentive and useable, so you'll want to hold it for more than a few seconds."
A second element that Szymanski added was a series of texture breaks which transition the plastic from the traditional shiny plastic to a surface that's a little more refined. This also served a functional purpose, as extra texture added on the bottom covered up knife marks or other scratches, the number-one reason why consumers toss their plates. "If you hold one of these you realize that it feels more substantial," says Szymanski. "It's not bulked-up plastic, it's that extra level of detail." In addition, pieces are not shrinkwrapped in plastic, allowing the pieces to be touched on shelves, meaning that relationship with the consumer can begin right there in stores.
More cues created by Preserve help to make a connection with the consumer. "We wanted to show why this plate is special and that they need to hold onto it," says Lee. A date on the back of each plate tells when it was "remade," and this information is also presented in Braille. Users are also encouraged via a URL to go online and communicate directly with Preserve about how long they've had their tableware and how they use it, as an easy way for the company to collect data as well as maintain a good relationship with its consumers.
And when the plates finally do reach the point when they are no longer functional, Preserve was sure to communicate that they can be sent back to them to be turned into yet another set of plates. "Ideally we want consumers to use these as long as they possibly can," says Anderson. But should consumers want to get rid of them, they have plenty of options to send them directly back to Preserve for recycling.
DEMYSTIFYING THE "5"
Beyond Preserve's work on the Everyday Tableware, the company has embarked upon a massive initiative to help consumers recycle their plastics stamped with a "5"--a plastic that many local recycling companies don't accept. Gimme 5, a partnership between Preserve, Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley, accepts their dairy containers to recycle as well as the Brita water pitcherfilters. The Gimme 5 program, a recycling system set up in Whole Foods Markets gives a place for consumers to recycle their "5"s while shopping, In addition, Preserve provides postage-paid mailing envelopes for consumers to send their Preserve toothbrushes and razor handles directly to them for recycling.
Although Preserve's Everyday Tableware is made with 100% post-industrial grade plastic waste (commercial food-storage containers, for example), they hope someday to make the switch to post-consumer plastics to make that chain of materials even more direct for their users. It's a story like that which gives a reason for consumers to engage with their products, says Anderson of an initiative like Gimme 5. "It's one very small step that we can tie into many more different and important environmental actions."
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