3 Big Questions About Method's New Ocean-Plastic Bottle

3 Big Questions About Method's New Ocean-Plastic Bottle

Method made a splash with its latest packaging innovation, a bottle of 100 percent recycled content with 25 percent coming from plastic trash found in the ocean.

Method founders Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan introduced the bottle Thursday in San Francisco (see my article for GreenBiz here), prompting Mayor Ed Lee to declare it Method Day in the city.

The company isn't aiming to clean up the North Pacific Gyre and the tons plastic trash awash in its currents. Its goal is to raise awareness of plastic pollution, Lowry says. Which is a great idea, as Treehugger's John Laumer notes.

I think so, too, but I'm also eagerly awaiting further developments with the bottle that will answer a few questions I have.

The main one being: While delivering an anti-pollution message, can the ocean plastic bottle also deliver a profit for Method?

Question 1: What's the ROI?

The company hopes to bring the ocean plastic bottle to market early next year. (See the prototype bottle on the far left in the photo at the top of the page.) It's looking to hook up with a major retailer for the project, and Method isn't naming names yet.

It will be interesting to see how Method, working with its plastic recycling partner Envision Plastics, brings this to scale. And how, or whether, it manages to do so in a way that's at least cost neutral when the revenue from whatever is sold in the bottle is tallied up.

For that matter, it would be interesting to know how Coke's PlantBottle, which was recently licensed to Heinz, and Pepsi's answer to the PlantBottle, pencil out as well. The makers and users of recycled plastic bottles often talk about sourcing, resulting reductions in a carbon footprint or the amount of used plastic extracted from the waste stream. In the case of Method's new bottle, each would take about 10 grams of plastic trash out of the sea.

Behind-the-scenes looks at how the math works are of particular concern to sustainability professionals who are constantly under the gun to make a business case for product-related, operations and other changes they advocate.

Lowry says Method can't talk about ROI yet, so that's point  No. 1 on which we'll stay tuned.

Question 2: What's the Supply Chain?

Where exactly is the ocean plastic coming from?

The issue came up during the Q&A session of Method's new conference on the bottle. When I asked for more details on the bottle's market launch, Lowry spoke of the intended launch early next year and added: "A lot depends on the right supply of plastic and to make sure that we get enough of it to make the bottles."

Garance Burke of AP had a chance to press further and asked, "I wasn't quite sure how you were going to get the continuous supply chain of plastic and I'm wondering if you can explain that ..."

"Frankly, neither are we," Lowry conceded.

"Creating the supply chain for ocean plastic that is floating in the ocean 3,000 miles from here is not something that's been done before," he said. "The framework that we're using is that there are a number of beach cleanup organizations that work here in California and that work in Hawaii that are regularly cleaning up this plastic [as it washes ashore from the North Pacific Gyre and its Great Pacific Garbage Patch].

"Our model is to intercept that plastic and divert the portion that we can use to our recycler in Southern California. So then really the only step remaining is to find enough of a supply. We're not finding it that hard to get enough of the plastic."

He and others pointed to California's annual Coastal Cleanup Day, this weekend, as an example of the availability of ocean plastic.

So seeing how the plastic recovery plan works full-scale will be interesting as well. It could eventually lead to job creation among cleanup and collection groups, he and others suggested.

Question 3: Will the Market Accept It?

This is the point I'm really curious about. Will Method customers, who have come to expect eye-catching and in many cases elegant packaging from the company, want to buy whatever Method product ends up in the ocean plastic bottle?

Unlike, most of Method's other bottles, it won't be transparent or translucent. And it's likely to stay industrial gray in color. "That's the plan," Lowry said when I asked. "When you take this type of plastic and recycle it, it takes that hue."

Lowry and his colleagues didn't delve into what the bottle will contain, but the prototype has the same general shape of the bottles for the company's laundry soap and fabric softener. Maybe the ocean bottle will end up being a refillable container for laundry detergent, something that doesn't generally sit on the kitchen or bathroom counter in full view.

Who knows, it may develop the so-ugly-that-it's-cool cachet of troll dolls, VWs and the Prius -- the latter being the posterchild for products with a powerful green message in an unusual-looking package.

Photos by Leslie Guevarra