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Plastic-free July – our approach to helping the planet

Plastic-free July – our approach to helping the planet

This month is plastic-free July, a global initiative designed to put a spotlight on our crazy plastic consumption, make us more aware of the hidden plastic lurking in our homes (I only recently found out that tea bags contain plastic!) and encourage us all to make some changes.

I know that eco credentials are important to you all, so I thought now was as good a time as any to tell you a bit more about how we’re doing our bit here at The Curious Pancake.

I have to admit that when I founded The Curious Pancake nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t know loads about being eco-friendly – I had a pretty meagre budget and limited industry connections, so I went with what was popular. But you don’t have to be in an industry like mine for very long before you have your eyes opened – there’s SO much waste! Layers of packaging, boxes, sleeves, tape…. Unless you want to make a fort as big as Buckingham Palace, most of it is just headed straight to the bin.

It became clear pretty quickly that I had to make some changes, so over the years I’ve been working with suppliers, testing ideas and trying to keep up to date with new products so we stay as eco-friendly as we can be.

To sleeve or not to sleeve

Plastic sleeves are one of the most talked about things when it comes to the eco credentials of greetings card companies, artists who sell prints and so on. They can be a bit of a necessary evil in getting the product to you in tip top condition, but unfortunately it does add up to a LOT of plastic.

Some of our illustrators and designers use corn-starch biodegradable ‘plastic’ sleeves, which feel slightly different to the traditional ‘cello’ sleeve but do the job. From a business perspective though, they’re more expensive but have a shorter shelf life and can be brittle, meaning they’re not necessarily cost-effective for widespread use.

Our other sleeves are made from polypropylene instead of cellophane, which is 100% recyclable (although we’re still waiting for many councils to update their machinery to be able to effectively recycle it!)

So, we continue to keep our ears to the ground to seek out and test alternatives as and when we can.

We’re also involved in the Naked Cards social campaign, which aims to encourage online card sellers to swap plastic sleeves for paper packaging, or nothing at all – hence the nekkidness! Fourteen suppliers and counting are already committed to sending me ‘naked’ orders and I’m spreading the naked love to as many customers as possible – but it will take some time to sell all our existing cello-wrapped stock, so it’s very much a work-in-progress. If you’d like a completely plastic-free order, just leave us a message in your checkout notes.

You can read more about our journey with plastic sleeves here.

Eco swaps

Obviously, you can’t get away from the fact that a certain amount of packaging is needed to make sure that our lovely products don’t get damaged in transit. So finding recyclable or more eco-friendly types of packaging is a must.

As well as swapping out (or removing) plastic sleeves from greeting cards, we’ve also swapped plastic packaging tape for paper tape, we use recycled paper for our order notes – even my office box files are cardboard!

Reuse, then recycle

We’ve established that packaging accounts for the majority of the waste we are left with, even if we’re lucky to receive things in recyclable packaging, it’s still better to keep things away from processing as long as possible if we can.

For the occasional orders we still receive containing bubble wrap, I re-use this in larger customer orders; I’m also definitely the go-to person in my circle of friends when they need packing boxes for moving house!

One of the more innovative technique I’ve discovered in my quest to reuse and recycle, is the production of ecobricks. You take a plastic drinks bottle and stuff it with as much (clean and dry) used plastic as you can and: voila! You have a recycled building block that can be used to create any kind of structure, from furniture to play parks! We’ve been doing this with some of our waste polypropylene – how amazing to be able to keep plastic out of the oceans and create something useful too.

Wider world

Although it can sometimes be easier to focus on the little things, like swapping plastic tape for paper, it’s also important to take the time to throw our gaze outward and really reflect on the impact we have on the planet. As a small business, I constantly feel the pressure of wanting to make environmentally sound choices, but often being restricted in those choices by budget, supply chain, etc.

A year or so ago, after some pondering and late-night research, I stumbled upon Trees for Life, a conservation charity dedicated to rewilding the Scottish Highlands. I instantly fell in love, so we adopted our own grove of trees that we continue to support – it’s so rewarding to literally see the growing benefits of making a conscious choice to help our planet thrive, not just attempt to survive. There are already 20 trees in our grove that will create homes for wildlife and forests for the future, and if you’d like to get involved too, you can donate a tree to our delicious Pancake Forest here.

We’re by no means perfect – like any business, here at The Curious Pancake we have a way to go, but we can honestly say we’re doing our best. If you have any ideas to help us improve our commitment to being Mother Earth’s friend, not her foe, please let us know. All ideas are welcome, and we’ll do what we can to test them and incorporate the good’uns in the future!   

PS: Have you seen out LOQI bags? They're an awesome, stylish alternative to the dreaded plastic-bag. I have two, and the oldest one has been going strong for 6+ years now. They hold an enormous amount of shopping weight, but more than that, they're utterly gorgeous to sling over your shoulder. Check them out HERE

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