Social entrepreneurshipUSA

Coffee lids and the ocean

Naeco reshapes how Americans see plastic

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 44 seconds.

I am in the USA myself at the moment and the sheer amount of trash we create is terrifying. I once counted the plastic bags I received for the veggies I bought at Walmart… 12 plastic bags. But did I bring reusable bags the next time? I did not. So what is it that is holding back Americans from being more sustainable? To find out more I spoke with the NYC-based social entrepreneur Bill Levey, founder of Naeco. The social business sells recyclable and compostable items but more on that later.

Love for the ocean and education

Bill, a lawyer by profession, was curious early in his life about scuba diving and the beauty of our oceans even though he was brought up far away from them in Virginia. As a licensed diver, he was shocked by the amounts of garbage that floats in the oceans on one of his trips to Indonesia. While working as a lawyer he felt he can do more meaningful work. His first social venture took him on a journey through American eating habits with the goal to educate children to eat healthier.

Changing the status quo

With Naeco Bill found a way to combine his interest in building things with his passion of protecting the oceans. He engaged producers of plastic packaging and potential customers such as coffee franchises. The journey wasn’t always easy, “Even though it would cost just 1 or 2 pence more businesses were resistant to change their packaging.” However, with resilience and patience, he sticks to his goal of slowly transforming how people think about recycling. Looking at his initial social business idea, Naeco doesn’t feel too different. It is all about education and making people aware, “Nobody is born thinking something is good or bad for you.”

Sustainable mindset

Recently, a lot has changed. People start appreciating materials that can be sustainable. Especially in metropolitan areas consumers put pressure on franchises to use reusable and recyclable materials. With that change of mindset, Naeco was able to obtain initial deals with enterprise businesses. “Actually our first big deal was with a company that wants to be plastic-free so they started an initiative gifting their employees a reusable bottle, our bottle.” When Bill was young he put attributes of his dream job on a sheet of paper, words such as community, innovation, environment, ocean conservation, and consumer joy. To me, it is exciting to talk to Bill who really made his childhood dreams come true. Even though, he just starts really. Let us have a closer look at the issues of recycling.

Challenges ahead, future in sight

Firstly, a key challenge that Bill identifies is that consumers don’t have a clear guideline of what is good to buy and what is not. Especially behavior such as a bunch of organic food wrapped in plastic, packed in plastic and carried with plastic does not make too much sense to most people. So are we all idiots? Bill says no, “There is no guidance for consumers what materials are good to use; terms such as ‘recyclable’ or ‘compostable’ are not clearly defined and companies use that to their advantage.”

Secondly, the environment is not ready to drive change. An example is Florida where there is not a single large-scale composting unit. There are quite some companies that are interested in compostable packaging but the environment doesn’t allow that.

Thirdly, we ourselves have to enforce changes. Once we demand coffee in cups that are not made from Styrofoam with potentially life-threatening impact on our bodies companies will adjust to that and change their purchasing mindset. First signs of change are visible as Bill states, “Companies that initially rejected my ideas are getting back to me being excited about sustainable ways of packaging.”

You can have an impact right now

What I realized while talking to Bill is that I have to adjust my own behavior first. So I decided to order one of the reusable bottles that Naeco offers. Actually, the element line is a beautiful product and the perfect item for the office. Who said that being sustainable has to look bad? Also take advantage of the 20% discount code that Bill offered for all the Business Socialista readers (Code: Marlon20).

This is how the Naeco bottle looks like. It is only one of the many products that Naeco offers to fight plastic trash.


Are you still curious about sustainable resource management? Check out the article of local recycling efforts in Peru. Soon I will also share my insights from industry-recycling and beautiful designs from plastic waste both social businesses from Egypt. So stay tuned.


14th October, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

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