Promotional Products Home Promo University® Introduction to Promotional Products Limiting the Environmental Impact of Promo Products

Environmental Impact of Promotional Products

We here at Quality Logo Products think that promotional products are the greatest things since weekends and long naps. We know some people have serious questions about them, though, like "What kind of effects do making and distributing promo items have on the environment?" Here's our letter to you, sharing what we learned after doing some research on the environmental impact of promo items.

We're not completely in the dark. We know that some people refer to promotional products as "trinkets and trash." Why? Well, because promotional products occasionally end up in the trash. Whether people simply didn't have room to carry home the items they received, or they thought that the promo items they got were of low quality... sometimes, those items get tossed.

Nobody Wants To Be Trashy

It's not an easy truth to face for either the customer hoping to make an impact with promotional products, or for the people who sell these products. And it's especially hard for those who care about the environment. It's been estimated that every year, approximately 121 million tons of waste end up in U.S. landfills alone. No one wants to imagine their promotional products as part of that colossal annual junk pile. 

So how bad is it? How do promotional products impact on the environment? And can promotional products actually help make the world a cleaner, better place?

The Good

We're a "good news" first kind of bunch. So, yes – promotional products can potentially help reduce environmental waste.

The promotional products most often touted as being eco-friendly are tote bags and water bottles. Totes and water bottles are designed specifically to be reused, which means they can help keep plastic bags and disposable water bottles out of the 3,500 or so landfills in the United States.

The problem is tote bags and water bottles only have the potential to reduce waste. In other words, they don't do the job if people don't use them! Even though plastic bag use in the United Kingdom reached a low point in 2009 ... it increased every year for the next four years! If that's not bad enough, a study conducted at the University of Vermont in 2013 suggested that when plastic water bottles are banned... students will just choose plastic soda bottles instead.

The Bad

In addition to being thrown away, there's another way that promotional products can affect the natural environment, and that has to do with manufacturing – specifically, with the materials that the products are made of and the components they contain.

You've probably noticed that a lot of promotional products, from pens to sunglasses, are made using plastic. Plastic plays many important roles in society, no doubt! All you have to do to realize this is imagine a hospital setting and think about all of the IV bags, syringes, and even prosthetic devices in use there, all made from plastic.

Unfortunately, plastic also can have negative effects on the natural environment:

Plastic products of all kinds can end up in landfills. In 2008, about 29.2 million tons of plastic made its way into landfills in the United States, taking up land that could be used for any number of other productive purposes. Obviously, that's not 29.2 million tons of branded sunglasses we're talking about – but considering that only 55% of consumers surveyed will hold on to a giveaway item for a year, plastic promotional products undoubtedly accounted for some of that.

There's no great way to get rid of plastic once it's been disposed of. Left on their own, plastic containers and bottles can take anywhere from 50 to 450 years to break down in their environments. Those plastic shopping bags we mentioned above? At least 500 years. If plastic is incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, along with other toxic air pollutants.

Whether or not these negative effects are worth it in the context of promotional products honestly depends on how you feel about the environment. It should be noted that polyurethane, which is a foam used to make almost every stress reliever you'll find, is also technically a plastic, which means that it presents many of the same issues noted above.

The other component we feel compelled to address is a promotional item’s battery. Sure, not every promotional product contains a battery, but many popular ones – including power banks, watches, and flashlights – do.

Batteries Too?!

Obviously, we don't want to imagine life without batteries, because then we'd have to imagine life without a number of essential tools, from pacemakers to (oh, no!) our phones. But we do think it's important to have some context if you're thinking about offering a battery-powered promo product:

In the mid-2000s, it was estimated that about 3 billion batteries were being disposed of each year in the U.S.

Batteries contain metals and materials that have been shown to be harmful to human health, including cadmium, lithium, and in some cases mercury. Having those elements seep into the environment from a landfill is definitely not a good thing. (Alkaline batteries, which are the most common kinds of single-use batteries you'll find, have been designated as safe for disposal, but they still take up landfill space.)

HOW TO AVOID THE UGLY

Okay, so all of the above sounds pretty doom and gloom. Is there any way that you can offer promotional products in a way that has a positive environmental impact?

Of course – there's always a way!

One of the easiest things you can do is encourage your customers to reuse and recycle. Do you have a battery-powered promotional item that you love? Let your customers know where they can recycle the batteries when you hand them out! Want to get people to reuse their totes? Give them a discount every time they bring a reusable tote bag to the register. (Target does this, and they estimate that their customers have used 190 million tote bags in place of plastic!)

You can also be conscious of which materials you choose for your promotional products:

Cotton is an alternative to the nonwoven polypropylene used in many tote bags. There's a lot of debate over whether or not cotton is environmentally friendly, mostly because it's a crop that requires a lot of water to grow and is often subjected to heavy pesticide use. However, it's considered a better alternative to even more water-intensive crops (think almonds) in regions of California that have suffered from heavy drought and organic cotton is grown without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides. Plus, if cotton does end up in a landfill (not that we want that!), it takes only a few months to biodegrade.

Bamboo is something of a wonder material. It can be used in all sorts of items, from t-shirts to flooring, and of course in plenty of promotional products! What makes it so great? Well, a bamboo tree grows and regrows quickly (reaching maturity in only three to five years, as opposed to the decades other trees take) and needs very little water. And bamboo can decompose in as few as one to three years!

Glass doesn't exactly win in the biodegradability category. It takes glass about one million years to break down! What makes it an environmentally friendly choice is that it's easy to recycle. Unlike paper and fabric, which have fibers that get a little weaker each time they're recycled, glass retains its quality over time. Recycling glass also has been shown to reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide production. Plus, glass promotional products just look nice.

But the best way you can make sure your promotional products have a positive environmental impact is to choose your products wisely. Make sure your products look good and have a long life in your customer's hands. Don't go for the promotional products that are more likely to be thrown out.

Did you know?

Also, keep an eye out on the Quality Logo Products website for products labeled with the Eco-Friendly flag. These are products that are produced with materials that our suppliers can verify are better for the environment, whether they're sustainable materials or recycled.

The good news is there are some easy steps you can take to make your giveaways greener. By choosing products your customers are likely to keep, shopping for products made from sustainable materials, and helping your customers reuse and recycle their products, you're making strides to keep our environment healthy. Every little step we take brings us one step closer to a less polluted world, and that's a world in which we don't have to write letters like this one to nature-loving customers everywhere!