This week was Zero Waste Week, where we’re encouraged to think about what we can do to reduce the sheer amount of stuff that gets thrown into landfill.
This is the kind of issue that really bothers us at Firespiral, so we imagine that it is important to many of you too. The single-use, disposable, plastic paradigm that we live in is unsustainable and environmentally damaging on many levels. We each need to take steps to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ that we consume on a daily basis, then look at re-using what we can and finally find recyclable alternatives for the necessary consumables. That is pretty straightforward- but putting it into practice is not so simple. It often takes more time, planning and energy to be more environmentally conscious, and as parents with small children, all of those things tend to be running in short supply! Also, whilst they will save you money in the long run, environmentally friendly alternatives can often have quite a high initial cost which can be hard to factor into the family budget.
In our daily lives we’ve used cloth nappies and wipes with our children,and for ourselves we have cloth sanitary products and menstrual cups. Shops like Babi-pur sell these and also a huge range of other re-usable household items. One of our favourites is the Klean Kanteen– a totally non-spill flask/travel mug that keeps your brew hot for hours on end. Many coffee shops will also give you a discount on the price of your drink if you give them your own travel mug to fill. As coffee is one of my biggest treats in life, I’m never without mine!
Handing down clothes between families is a lovely way to re-use items that get grown out of quickly, and some of our younger children have barely ever worn a brand new outfit! Fond memories are rekindled as you spot a little one wearing a t-shirt that has done the rounds through countless other children previously…
There are still lots of things that we throw away each day, so we all recycle waste furiously! Here in Bolton we have 4 different bins for separating paper, glass and metal, green waste ready for the council to collect and recycle. All our food waste is composted by the council (even meat and bones) and put to good use on veg patches across the borough! Initiatives like our local community greengrocer’ A Small Good Thing’ give us access to locally grown, delicious produce with zero packaging. Our Northern British climate impacts on what food we can grow ourselves, but soft fruits like blackcurrants, raspberries and blueberries are incredibly easy to grow and love it up here (we grow our blueberries as patio plants in large pots as they need an acidic soil); they’re a great child-friendly crop too. There is a lot of food that we can forage for in our area, wimberries (or bilberries, blaeberries- whatever you call them in your area) are a purple finger staining treat in summer, followed by blackberries in autumn. My family wisdom is to pick blackberries that grow higher than a dog can wee!
How do Firespiral measure up as a zero waste company?
As a business, minimising waste and our environmental impact in general is a main focus for us, and it influences a lot of the choices that we make. Running a nearly paperless office is fairly simple for modern online businesses like ours, although it means that we don’t get to revel in the joy of office supplies (we love some pretty stationery)!
We know how exciting it can be to receive a fancily packaged parcel, but the branded, decorative wrappings and finishing touches have an environmental cost to them, and all so often we just end up throwing them away once we’ve passed the initial excitement of opening our new item. All our postage bags are fully recyclable or biodegradable. That means that you can re-use them if you wish, but long term they won’t be hanging around. The cotton storage bags that your wraps arrive in are practical, durable items in themselves, carefully sourced from a fairtrade, carbon neutral, ethically trading company. You could store your wraps in them long term, however my wraps live hastily folded on the shelf, and the bags find new purposes as crochet project holders, odd sock bags, swimming kit carriers etc.
Our new mugs need a lot of packaging to help them travel safely through the post, but by choosing unbleached, recycled cardboard, re-using bubble wrap and paper where we have it, and only buying bio-degradable bubble wrap when we run out of old stuff, we help to keep our environmental impact low.
We weave our blankets using recycled cotton. Offcuts of cloth from garment making factories are collected, chopped up and broken down into fibres then re-spun to create new cotton yarn. All of those scraps would’ve have otherwise ended up straight in landfill- shockingly textiles form a huge part of the waste that gets dumped in sites every day- yet by being swept up from factory floors and re-purposed they provide enough high quality yarn to supply us and many other eco-conscious companies.
Weaving is a pretty organic process, and there is a fair bit of educated guesswork involved in working out how much yarn you will need to create the cloth that you need. UK garment manufacturers often have beautiful yarn created for them, but end up with some spare cones that they can’t use up as they only work on a far larger scale and need the dye lots to match exactly etc.
We work on such a small scale that the cones for which they have no purpose can be enough for an entire weave for us, so we can make something precious out of what was only seen as waste to another company.
In comparison there is virtually no waste from our production processes. We work creatively to use up all the yarn that we buy in one way or another. Any tiny ends of cones that we genuinely can’t use can be donated to creative resource centres for schools and groups to work with.
Keeping dyeing and weaving very local to us means that there is very little packaging required for the cloth during its manufacture, and pretty much every centimetre of cloth on the roll gets used for something!
We cut the cloth and hem by hand, so that there is virtually no wastage in the process. Pieces of cloth that can’t be made into wraps go to other companies such as Oak Wren to be sewn into capes and cloaks, or Nahla and Absolute Bobbins to be transformed into bags. Truly tiny pieces of cloth still find a purpose as Slingamebobs or pendant necklaces, even earrings! The smallest slivers of wrap scrap go to local schools for crafting with. All we throw away are the stray loose threads that we sweep up at the end of the day!
Many textiles these days are sold with the ‘fast fashion’ expectation that they’ll only have a short life span in our wardrobes, then be discarded in favour of the newest season’s clothes. How many times have you found that it is actually cheaper to replace a damaged item with something new than it is to put the time and effort into mending what you already have?
In the babywearing community, you have re-invigorated the expectation that cloth should be conscientiously and lovingly created, that is precious and valuable and that it should have a long lifespan of use. I don’t think that we give that enough credit! We sell wraps knowing that they will be used pretty much constantly, by one owner then the next- I very much doubt that a single wrap has ended up being thrown in the bin as you might see a coat or dress ending up (even though the initial costs of both might have been pretty similar).
When wraps finish their lives as baby carriers, you turn them into all sorts of wonderful keepsakes and they continue to be loved in new ways. You develop a long term commitment to the cloth that you buy, which in this day and age is pretty special!