These days more and more people are becoming vegetarian or turning to veganism, which are fantastic ways to live an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. However, these methods require major lifestyle adaptations which can be intimidating to many people. I find that people who are often not ready to make such changes in their lives, such as me, often feel that if they do not fully commit to these massive adaptations they cannot make a difference. Therefore, many people often end up not doing anything different at all. However small decisions and choices can make the world of difference and by becoming an environmentally-conscious consumer you can make an impact.
Let’s talk about Clover. Recently Clover has come out with a new campaign that started with the implementation of a new marketing gimmick, turning their milk bottles blue. Now many may find this amusing but the new packaging stood out from the crowd which subconsciously boosted sales and attracted people to buying Clover milk instead of another milk, even though they are all basically the same. Clover’s reasoning was that they were aiming to become a new and better company. This was the only part that I found amusing as they were doing the exact opposite and getting away with it. As an environmental chemist whose specialty lies in wastewater treatment, I was appalled. Many people are not made aware of the issues that arise from dyes being added to wastewater streams. Firstly, organic dyes are often made of complex compounds known as aromatics, theses are carbon-ring like structures, also known as benzene rings, that are highly stable. For instance, dyes are resistant to biological wastewater treatment, which is the general treatment types used in water treatment plants. This means that organic dyes can only be broken down through specialised treatments such as chemical oxidation and then they are only partially degraded at most, leaving behind other chemicals such as phenols, and short-chain acids. Untreated dye wastewater also poses problems: it affects the way light penetrates water, often severely minimising the amount of light that can enter the water surface. This leads to the loss of aquatic plant life as they are unable to photosynthesis efficiently. This, in turn, leads to the loss of aquatic life, not to mention that many dyes are known carcinogens in large enough quantities.
The biggest problem is that, even if Clover is treating their wastewater or using recycled plastic (doubtful), they have now introduced this new simple idea into the market. A simple, cheap gimmick that can rapidly boost sales and get consumers talking about your brand. I predict that the success of Clover’s new campaign will see many other brands following suit. This will lead to an increasing demand for coloured plastic, which is less likely to be used for recycled material. This will increase the amount of dye entering wastewater, making it harder to treat waste.
One small consumer decision, such as buying Clover milk can change the way large companies view and treat the environment. Buying Clover milk can encourage many companies to do similar marketing schemes, whilst boycotting Clover milk could show large corporations that their consumers will not be misled and manipulated. Even small decisions such as choosing to buy the product using clear or white plastic over a product using dyed plastic can greatly affect the course of environmentalism in our world.
So, what milk should you buy instead? I would recommend the Spar milk; their milk comes in a carton box which is much more biodegradable than plastic. At the back of the Spar, milk carton is a whole piece about how they make their packaging from sustainable resources and the packaging is 87% recyclable. They could consider losing the green plastic lids though.
Being a vegan is probably the best environmental decision you can make; however, it is not the beginning and end of being an environmentalist. Being environmental isn’t always about changing your entire lifestyle, it’s about making informed choices that will help the overall forward progression of an environmentally conscious world. It’s about holding big companies like Clover responsible for their actions and in the same way discouraging other money hungry companies from doing the same. It’s about choosing to buy the white plastic milk bottle over the blue plastic milk bottle because a tiny decision like that, that takes no time and doesn’t affect your life at all can make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
Contributor: Lexi Burling (Pseudo name)
BSc and honours degree specialising in environmental sciences as well as soil and water chemistry.