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Is a totally plastic free business possible?

By Chris Dawson June 5, 2019 - 1:00 pm

Zoe Strassen is a Devon based artisan soap maker. She started her business, The Natural Spa, three years ago in a small shed at the bottom of the garden and is now making a real impact in her field. She has two huge passions in life, making soap from fresh natural ingredients and plastic free living and so keeping her business plastic free and environmentally friendly is a huge part of her business.

She takes great care over the products that she makes, keeping the ingredients natural and fresh, using her skills from her former career as a chef to create the most incredible flavour mixes, ‘Lime and Lavender’ and ‘Lemon and Eucalyptus’ are two of her most popular scents.

When you run a business that claims to be plastic free you have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Zoe often gets enquiries from her customers checking that she is plastic free behind the scenes, here are some of the things that she does to make sure that her business is authentic.

  1. Minimise product packaging

    Beauty products are carefully regulated and so everything Zoe makes is safety tested by experts before release and has strict requirements for ingredients lists and usage warnings. Despite this she uses a single paper band as or a single sticker on each product which has just enough space to have the product description and the legally required details. The bands are made from recycled paper and printed locally. This is also a very cost effective way of packaging – many soaps are plastic wrapped or boxed but this isn’t necessary and while is looks nice it will deter customers that want to be plastic free themselves.

  2. Reuse boxes

    Whenever possible Zoe will send parcels out in a second-hand box, she is lucky to have a large supply of these readily available. You might think that this will put people off but her target market really appreciate it, she gets lots of comments from customers saying how pleased they were that their package arrived like this.

  3. Use paper based parcel tape

    Most people use a plastic based sellotape by default but paper based tape works just as well and is easy to source, it looks much better in additional to being more environmentally.

  4. Use paper shreddings for packing

    Zoe is based in the same office building as an integrated label supplier, they have to keep sample paper sheets for two years and so she shreds the samples that are no long needed and uses it instead of polystyrene beads of new paper packaging in her boxes.

  5. Ask Suppliers to supply to you plastic free

    She asks her suppliers to send materials without plastic packaging, if that isn’t possible she will return larger plastics to suppliers for reuse and finally recycles anything that is leftover than cannot be reused.

  6. Buy local

    Zoe uses local ingredients and services whenever possible, and if she does have to go further afield she always prefers to buy from a small business.

You do need to keep your business head firmly in place, you have to make sure that you stay efficient as well as being environmentally friendly. Zoe says that the key is to do a lot of preparation in advance so that you can pack quickly and efficiently on a day to day basis and to use common sense, so for example if someone orders gift wrap then they might also prefer that you use a new box. She has put a system in place that can grow with her business, environmentally friendly, authentic but is also efficient and practical.

Zoe uses One Stop Order Processing to process orders from Amazon, eBay, Etsy and her own Shopify online shop, this helps to streamline order processing and allows her to keep track of stock over all of the stores, this is a really important to Zoe because her products are all handmade and some take over three months to make from end to end.

  • jim
    3 months ago

    nothing wrong with plastic
    its how people dispose of plastic waste that is the problem

    • Jan
      3 months ago

      Yes, me too, I can’t remember anything in plastic from when I was a kid, glass or cardboard and you got money back for the returning the glass! I think it is going back that way now for a lot of people but with the supermarkets ruling the roost with their unnecessary packaging and wasteful practises it is hard to avoid.

  • jim
    3 months ago

    dare bet the lens and frame of her glasses are a type of plastic

    • 3 months ago

      Most likely the lenses are as well – it’s single use plastics that are the thing to worry about not items that can be used for years and then recycled when they can’t be used anymore. Nothing wrong with the glasses.

      Looking at your previous comment it sounds as if you recycle, am I right?

    • 3 months ago

      Hi Jim

      Zoe from the natural spa here ( the one in the picture ) . One of the key points of the zero waste movement is the masses doing what they can rather than a small amount of people doing zero waste perfectly. Hence why I chose glasses that last me years and years rather than contacts that are dispossessed of regularly.

    • Jim
      3 months ago

      my age group never thought much about recycling plastics wers not around much
      , our milk and softdrinks came in returnable containers
      Our meat and veg was wrapped in paper and produced locally
      We flew abroad little ,many did not have a car

  • 3 months ago

    There are many ways to reduce plastic. Plastic is a great product and it has its uses. Just none of them should be single use.

    One immediate change that can be made and can make a big difference is online orders in plastic bags. Especially clothing companys who just put everything into a plastic bag and apply a label. I realise it is easy but it has to stop now. They have to use cardboard.

    People need to stop supporting companies that deliver in plastic bags. Think about how many of these go into landfill every day.

    We have never used many of them but now we have completely removed these from our warehouse.

  • jim
    3 months ago

    we could all stop using plastic, live in a cave, grow crops , hunt animals and dance round in stone circles

  • jim
    3 months ago

    20 years time lego will be worse than ivory ,
    , we will have false teeth made from cardboard,
    constipation will be the worlds big killer because having a dump wont be eco friendly

  • Peter
    3 months ago

    Hi Zoe, ignore dumb comments here or elsewhere. What a stupid reaction to make comments about your glasses. Do I have to wear wooden shoes , while I am a flexitarian?? It is not about being 100% eco friendly, it is about doing the right thing as much as you can. We all depend on the state of our nature, sea and planet. Nothing hippie about that. Thumbs up for your company and eco friendly goals. I agree that also Ebay sellers should think about the way they pack things. 1) I started to use cardboard boxes in stead of bubble envelopes. They look pretty nice too. 2) I try to use not so much plastic cellotape. 3) I do not use a sticker for the address if not necessary. 4) I use paper wraps for filling the empty space in a box, not plastic.

    • 3 months ago

      Hi Peter,

      I agree with what you say however as soon as your packet’s thickness surpasses 2.5 cm it becomes a parcel and the price of delivery rockets. If many of your online products are low in value then you will soon start to lose money on most orders as they become small parcels. Might as well call it a day and go home and think of something else to pay the mortgage.

    • Jan
      3 months ago

      You can buy large letter size boxes quite cheaply to use to make sure you stay in the size limits, there is a little bit of extra time in building the box but not too much.

  • 3 months ago

    @ Zoe Strassen

    Minimise product packaging: We use 3 size boxes but have had complaints that our packaging are too big for some items, it would cost us more to buy smaller quantities in various sizes. We use either paper or bidegradable void fill to pack with, so no real harm done.

    Reuse boxes: Not really practical, we don’thave 1500+ boxes to reuse each month or the space to keep them. All our inmcoming boxes are sent to a paper recycling centre.

    Use paper based parcel tape: I wish, please recomend a cheap supplier and I will look at this. We moved to using crash lock boxes on 90% of items so only have to tape the top of the box. We are looking to move to self seal closing boxes in the future.

    Use paper shreddings for packing: I found using shredded paper puts the weight of the box up quite a lot, I use Packing Paper Void Fill from aa-packaging-sales-team on eBay, which is a lot lighter and good for packing heavy items. Whilst the weight may not effect your postage rates it does effect the load on the carrier you use.

    You forgot one of the most important points: Educate your customer, if you dare!

    Many customers buy from us each month rather than ordering 3 months worth, at a time, which puts up the carbon footprint of what they buy. Even though a lot of our customers are Eco-Friendly and have complianed re size of boxes and using “polystyrene beads”, although we do point out we use degradable fill which will dissolve in water.

    • 2 months ago

      Hi Tyler

      I use https://www.eco-craft.co.uk/ for my paper tape

    • 2 months ago

      @ Zoe Strassen

      Thanks for that link but the cost is expensive

      24x 50mm/50metre rolls £53.86 + £5.59 postage

      Compared to:

      24x 48mm/66metre rolls £12.75 – FREE postage

      And when you take into account the paper tapes are shorter in legnth, it works out even more expensive.

      My other point was about educating customers, I have just had the same customer make their third order this week with me tonight. all small items.

      Add the damage we all do to the environment by selling on line, none of us can really say we are doing the right thing.

      Back to my mud hut….

    • jim
      2 months ago

      clearly ,unless your using plastic free as a marketing hook ,or a business model,
      plastic free is not viable or profitable for most

  • jim
    3 months ago

    use paper rather than plastic?
    is using huge amounts of paper eco friendly ???

    the glasses remark ,
    was intended to point out the hypocrisy of the anti plastic eco warriors.
    to all these anti everything save the planet social media keyboard warriors ,just look at all the plastic cased computers that are in front of you,all the plastic insulated wire that provides the power and transmits your messages

    • Peter
      3 months ago

      Okay, you got a point there, although your words of choice are not the best and fit most of all the people that do nothing about the problem. It’s difficult to make a pair of glasses from paper, while it’s easy to use a cardboard box (that fits through the mail box) instead of a plastic envelope. I just read an interesting article online from National Geographic called: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic (and Recycling). Can not put a link here because copyrights but it’s worth to look it up. It’s easy reading stuff.

    • jim
      3 months ago

      we do our bit, we pay tax , and employ people, we support our community, we contribute to society, we are ethical and responsible,
      we dont recycle a plastic bottle , thinking we have saved the planet,
      its not that simple!

    • Jan
      3 months ago

      Jim,

      What do you do in your business to be environmentally responsible?

    • jim
      3 months ago

      jan
      we improve and are very friendly to our local environment
      we help to provide and finance a roof over the head ,food on the table, and warmth and protection for the children,of quite a few humans,
      we contribute tax and rates to the authorities and council services

      we can see the effect of our contribution to the environment
      we dont use the environment as a marketing ploy
      or use recycling bins as a stairway to heaven

    • Jan
      3 months ago

      I was referring to your eCommerce processes rather than your business, every business does those things, I was interested to know because in some of the things you have said you have seemed to have some insight but I think you are not really that interested you just want to have a bit of a moan.

    • jim
      3 months ago

      we have life insight and experience
      were pragmatic we run our business for profit
      without profit we cant run our business environmentally or otherwise
      saving the plant is for marvel super heros
      we just want to watch a bit of telly have a pint and walk the dog

  • jim
    3 months ago

    oh nearly forgot
    our business is 100% environmentally friendly 100% of our stock is recycled
    were Antique dealers!!!!

    • Shaw Taylor
      3 months ago

      “oh nearly forgot our business is 100% environmentally friendly 100% of our stock is recycled were Antique dealers!!!!”

      Beware, the words “recycled antiques” means fake antiques!

    • jim
      3 months ago

      think your confusing reproduction with recycled chum

  • 3 months ago

    Well done Zoe. In regard to companies using plastic bags to dispatch orders; postal biobags – made from plant starch are now available here in the UK and I very much that the large clothing brands are going to be leading the way and use biobags for dispatching their orders.

  • Peter
    3 months ago
  • jim
    3 months ago

    interesting and food for thought program from BBC concerning plastic

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48581669
    one claim is that even though it may be domestically recycled after that it could be dumped or disposed of in any manner

    • James
      2 months ago

      I am really pleased to see companies starting to look at their plastic packaging usage and it looks like the younger generation may be able to save the planet. Well done Zoë!

    • jim
      2 months ago

      soap??? saved mankind🤣

    • 2 months ago

      Jim I think you’re being needless rude here…. the post was about how to go plastic free. Sure one retailer cutting out plastic isn’t going to save the planet on their own but it’s a real problem area in ecommerce and there’s no reason to take the p*** 😮

    • 2 months ago

      @Chris Oh Dear… Somebody had a sense of humour failure.

      I think we all do our bit regardless of if we believe in it or not, as I mentioned in my post above, we use plastic tape, whilst paper tape may seem like a better alternative it is 10x the cost.

      I did ask where I can buy it cheaper but got no response.

      The other point I made was educating the customer, whilst we are all repeatedly sending items out in the post, surely this has an effect on the planet, whatever we do to try and justify how eco friendly we are being.

      The “free postage” & “free returns” has a lot to do with why customers order what they want when they want, rather than planning their shopping.

      Are we really as eco-friendly as we try and make out?

    • jim
      2 months ago

      whoops sorry
      forgot being anti plastic and recycling gave folk the moral high ground

  • Richard
    2 months ago

    Another boost for reducing plastic usage at Glastonbury, with David Attenborough on stage.

  • Jim
    2 months ago

    Yeah wonder they keep their weed in?

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