Jybe recently had the chance to (virtually) sit down with Andrea Arria-Devoe, Sustainability Editor at Goop, Executive Producer of Straws and Founder of sun + water, for our inaugural “Sit-in” series with sustainability leaders to learn about their experiences in the field. Andrea has been in the vanguard of the movement for the past 15 years, and we are excited to share some of her ideas and recommendations. Her unique perspective as a manufacturer, documentarian and sustainability writer makes her a triple-threat, and we feel very honored to have had this opportunity with her.
As you know, Jybe is on a mission to eliminate restaurants’ use of single-use plastic. From your point of view, why is it so important to solve the single-use plastic crisis right now – and what’s at stake if we don’t?
What’s at stake if we don’t solve the issue of single-use plastic pollution is the health of people and the planet. The plastic crisis is directly linked to the climate crisis. Plastic is made from oil and as we are in the process of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels the oil industry is desperate to find a way to sell the excess product. This means they are trying with all their might to sell us on the fiction of recycling (and convenience!) so they can continue to make more plastic. We have to turn off the tap. Period. It’s now been well-documented that the chemicals from plastics are linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, ADHD, early onset puberty and many other health issues. And, of course, there’s the issue of microplastics, which have been found virtually everywhere in our environment.
We absolutely love the work Goop does to advocate for environmentally conscious practices in the wellness space and beyond. As the sustainability editor, how do you help ensure Goop steers the conversation towards a more sustainable future for all?
Thank you! I think it’s really important to look at the bigger picture of sustainability. For instance, you can’t talk about clean beauty and ingredients without also looking at the kind of packaging a brand is using or how they are offsetting their carbon footprint. Companies need to be thoughtful about every aspect of their business and really consider their overall impact on people and planet so I’m always trying to educate myself and others on how to be as conscious a consumer as possible.
We are also obsessed with your other earth-conscious business venture, sun and water. What inspired you to foray into the world of pool accessories?
Around the same time as I was getting deeper into the world of plastic pollution through my involvement with the STRAWS documentary, we moved to a home with a pool. My kids would ask me to buy pool toys and I just couldn’t stomach their short life span or the idea of the kids gnawing on PVC or polyethylene foam. (And they were ugly.) One day I was driving around my neighborhood and saw a black garbage bin filled with pool noodles headed for a landfill and I thought there has to be a more earth-friendly product. So, thinking that a plant-derived PVC would be the solution, I started doing research and going down a rabbit hole of bioplastics and recyclable materials. I was blessed to have folks like Dianna Cohen and Jackie Nunez from Plastic Pollution Coalition to consult with during the process. I became ultra conscious of not falling into a greenwashing trap, which is how I landed on a rubber tube with a durable cover made from outdoor fabric as our first product. Ultimately, people need alternatives to plastic versions of things like toys and straws in order to make small changes. My hope is to be able to redesign things like junky goggles and plastic water guns that people treat like disposable items right now.
Have you always been an environmentally-conscious consumer, or was there a moment that made you feel an awakening and led you to re-examine the way you consume?
As a perfectionist, I’ve always been concerned with waste and wondered where does it all go?? But, my time spent living in San Francisco really opened my eyes to the concept of being a good environmental citizen. My husband and I lived there from 2005-2007. During this time, SF became the first city to ban single-use plastic bags. Anya Hindmarch’s “I Am Not A Plastic Bag” totes were all the rage. Spoons made from potato starch (which we now know aren’t great) were everywhere. My awareness really took off and then slowly built to a rage, which then led to activism.
Are there any issues or challenges you’ve encountered in the sustainability space that you feel need to get corrected as we strive to make the planet a healthier place?
Whether intentional or not, there is a lot of greenwashing in the sustainability space. As you covered in your blog post, compostability in to-go packaging is a perfect example. It is false to claim that everything from your straws to your salad bowls to your food scraps is being composted when there isn’t an industrial composting facility within 100 miles of your location. A while ago I had reached out to Sweetgreen about creating a reusable bowl system to cut down on waste. They told me that they had 2,000 reusable bowls in storage but they couldn’t use them because of health code issues. This makes zero sense to me. If we can do a bottle deposit on reusable glass milk bottles, why can’t we do this at a restaurant which has dishwashing capabilities? Especially one that has so many repeat customers. So, I think the biggest challenge we face in the sustainability space is reducing waste and using less. We need businesses to find a way to embrace circularity without seeing it as a sacrifice to the bottom line.
Okay, you’ve heard this one before but we had to ask, what are your top, easy-to-implement practices for people looking to be more eco-conscious at home and as they go about their general routine?
If it’s possible to shop package-free, do it. I love shopping in the bulk section at my co-op and now there are so many refill shops popping up all over the place, making it easier and easier to avoid single-use packaging. When you think about how many times you need to buy peanut butter or cleaning supplies, it’s kind of crazy to be paying for the container it comes in every single time. Also, drinking filtered tap water is a no-brainer. The whole bottled water industry is a bit of a racket.
What tried-and-true, earth-friendly products have you found to be game-changers?
We know you’re an authority on helping people make their way toward the gold standard of zero waste. What big piece of advice do you have for people who want to adopt a fully zero-waste lifestyle?
I feel like zero-waste is an unrealistic goal for most people (especially with kids) so I prefer to aim for a low-waste, or less-waste lifestyle. I think it’s important to do your best and to make sure it’s sustainable for you. For example, I can go without packaged snacks and will make my own treats and baked goods whenever possible. My 7 year-old daughter cannot. So, rather than fight with her, we make a deal that she can buy packaged granola bars and things like healthy-ish pop tarts for the week but if she blows through them before that I won’t buy more. I also keep a Terracycle Box on hand for unavoidable packaging. There’s also a new company I am excited about called Conscious Cleanup that specializes in hard to recycle waste. That said, recycling shouldn’t be a crutch.
What companies, organizations, and/or restaurants are setting best in class examples through their dedication to eco-conscious practices when it comes to reducing waste?
I’m really excited about companies embracing EPR (extended producer responsibility) by incorporating reuse and recycling into their ethos and therefore holding themselves accountable for the entire life cycle of a product. For example, Swedish Stockings will take back your old stockings and repurpose them. Tara Button, founder of BuyMeOnce.com is also a staunch advocate against planned obsolescence and is fighting for companies like appliance makers to be required to label how long their items will last. Lauren Singer from Package Free Shop and Trash is For Tossers does an excellent job educating people on how to live a less trashy life. There are a lot of people and companies doing great things
Now that we’ve set the bar extremely high, who should we speak to next on “10 Questions with Jybe?”