We want to have a sustainable business.
A few years ago, we rethought our packaging. We replaced our cheap plastic jars and tubs with glass. This was an expensive process for us. The wholesale price for containers made out of plastic vs. glass or metal is considerable. The price difference is something that you can't pass on to consumers. There is also the price of mailing heavier containers. Plus companies like Amazon who offer free or reasonable shipping. I don't like to make purchases where the shipping cost more than the product. We also made a switch to more eco-friendly shipping materials. It shouldn't be a surprise that mailers made from recycled paper cost more than plastic ones. My point here is that our cost are greater for eco-friendly products but the price for our products has remained pretty much the same.
We are so thankful for the folks who support us. We make products that last a long time. That's part of our philosophy- purchase products that last. This is not the traditional "grow your business" path. Carly and I frequently have conversations about how to grow our business especially wholesale. One of our goals right now is to get our Seaweed Shampoo Bars into natural food shops and coops. She points out that because our bars last so long there isn't really a lot of turn over and that is something stores don't like. Even if it is a store with a Zero Waste philosophy they need customers to support them and the products they stock.
My point here is- it's complicated. We got an email the other day from a customer who was upset with us. She pointed out that we had a Zero Waste philosophy but we had sent them a postcard advertisement. I believe she was referring to a postcard I sent in Dec. I'll admit it was probably my most "ad-centered" and not personal postcard. It was a message to support small, local or indie business during the holiday season. Of course, we were thrilled if someone decided to support us but the general message was shop small. I made it a bit more "slick" because I had decided to send a card in Jan with a more personal message. When I'm addressing or stamping or decorating our "snail mail" I like to capture a bit of author Alice Hoffman's magic. Her characters infuse ordinary things with magical intentions. I'm not saying my postcards are magical but they do have good intentions.
I still like "real mail". It's partly my ties to Gotts Island. Mail is a big deal there and the little mail house helps build and connect community. When I lived overseas I had "postcard" buddies. Postcards where what I'd buy in airports. I just mailed a card of cheer to the mom of one of my grade school friends- she needs a bit of love. I also realize how complicated every action we take is and how there are always consequences.
We've tried so many different avenues to introduce people to our company. I know it's easy for people to say "just use social media". Social media is incredibly complicated and it's very hard for small businesses to make a dent when they compete against large companies with big budgets.
The social media sites are also businesses. In general, an average post is shown to about 2% of the people who like your page. If people "like" or comment on the post the reach does increase. You can also try to increase your reach by paying the social media company money to promote your post. FaceBook just changed it's rules again making it even harder for little companies like Dulse & Rugosa.
Another option is to join and participate in groups. I joined some Zero Waste FaceBook groups. I felt like I was a good group member. I "liked" and made relevant comments on posts and whenever someone asked about shampoo bars I would post a link to our website. One evening I got a message asking me "to not self-promote". They explained -
We just wanted to reach out to you to let you know that the group's rules around business posts have changed. Unfortunately, none of the Journey groups allows members to do any sort of promotion around their businesses, blogs associated with businesses or that have affiliate links etc etc etc.
I totally understood where they were coming from but the next day in the site's thread were posts about products from three big companies including posts about the wonders of Burt's Bees. This company actually started in Maine and is always the example used in entrepreneur classes. "Do you want to be another Burt's Bees?" We always answer "NO". I was so frustrated by this- Burt's Bees is a giant company owned by the multinational company Clorax. My take away from this is it's OK for big business to continue to get their products posted because they themselves are not actually doing the posting. It's coming from someone else- what's wrong is "self-promoting". Even thought it's social media- you have no idea who is actually doing the posting or how much money and influence is being spent encouraging and influencing folks.
I'm frustrated today- how can I grow a business that isn't perfect but also tries?
My daughter Carly and I were talking about "garden guilt" recently. That's when you have more produce than you can eat and not a lot of time to can or freeze all your garden goodies. If you have a crock pot here is an easy technique for turning an abundance of garden produce into a tasty yummy stock that you can freeze and enjoy summer's bounty on a cold winter day.
If the garden gives you tough green beans make a stock. You can use basically anything to make your stock. I like to start with a nice chunk of kelp. Kelp is a wonderful seaweed that adds depth and flavor to cooked dishes especially stocks, soups and beans. The rich flavor that seaweeds add to foods is known as umami. It's the Japanese word for the fifth taste sensation. Umami is a great substitute for meats in your stock. Another way to boost the umami flavor is to use dried mushrooms. There's no hard and fast rule for making this broth and it will be different each time you make it- it all depends on what's available in your garden and farm market. For more information about cooking and enjoying sea vegetables check out the cookbook Sea Vegetable Celebration.
The next step is to load your crockpot up with vegetables, onions, beans, tomatoes, squash, carrots, greens, whatever you have an abundance of including bunches of herbs. This is a perfect opportunity to use older and tough vegetables including clean skins. Turn the crock pot on and let it simmer away for hours. I like to cook mine over night, the house is cooler and you wake up to a lovely savory smell.
When everything is cooked, strain the stock. You can stop here and freeze a soup base or you can use gorgeous, lovely vegetables and make a soup. For this step I like to use the best veggies I can. Tender and sweet. I'll put onions and carrots in to simmer until tender and will lightly simmer other veggies including corn, beans, peas, chopped greens and herbs. I freeze my vegetable soup without any grains, pasta or rice. It takes up less room and I can quickly cook up my choice of starch to add to my soup before serving.
It's not a lot of actual work making the stock, it takes awhile for the broth to simmer and then simply pop into your choice of containers and freeze.
Every month or so, once I've mastered my current zero waste/plastic free goal I start on a new one. Usually it's a goal that's been on my mind for awhile but takes a bit to actually get into action. Compostable dog poop bags have been on my list for awhile. Tuffy, my girl poops at least twice a day and since we visit our local dog park almost daily that's a lot of plastic poop bags.
READ THE LABELS
I first decided to try and buy compostable dog bags locally and visited our local pet store. I asked the clerk for compostable bags and she looked at me blankly. She did walk me over to the dog waste section and recommended a product that had "eco-friendly" on the label. Well, the container the bags came in was packed in cardboard made from recycled paper but the bags were your ordinary plastic bags. The product was more expensive than others because it was geared to a dog owner who was environmentally conscious and who most likely had forgotten their reading glasses. You have to read the labels when shopping for eco-friendly products. There is a tern called "green washing", it's labeling cleverly designed to make products look as environmentally responsible as possible. If I hadn't carefully read the label I would have assumed that the bags- the item I wanted to purchase were eco-friendly.
My next stop was the internet. There are quite a few choices on the market I wanted a smaller company, a plant based bag and one that could be composted at home. bioDOGradable Dog Poop Bags fit the bill. As I learned more I realized how complicated biodegradable bags are (not a big surprise). On their FAQ page the question "Are these bags degradable/biodegradable?" was answered yes and no. The bags are made from a material called "bioplastic" which is plant based- corn not fossil fuel based-plastic and when it breaks down it produces non-toxic byproducts such as humus. The FTC has guidelines as well as California which has laws about the claims and marketing of what exactly is biodegradable. The take away from this is consumers should be wary of products that claim to be 100% biodegradable.
THE FINE ART OF COMPOSTING
There are two ways to dispose of your poop bags. The best is home composting. I'm lucky to have a large backyard so I'm adding my poop bags to my large pile of slow composting. I'm not filling my food/garden waste compost bin with bags of poop. The next choice to to find a facility with a biosolid composter, compost made from sewage sludge. I would guess biosolids composter are few and far between. Finally, simply putting you poo bags in the dog waste receptacles is an option- because at least the corn based bags will decompose.
WHAT ABOUT EXPENSE?
So, with all the complications is it still worth using compostable poo bags? In my opinion, yes. Even when added to traditional landfills the bags will compost at the same rate as food waste, paper or lawn clippings. It's not perfect but it is better than traditional plastic bags because in the end they will turn back into a natural material unlike plastic which simply hangs around forever. Another benefit is the manufacturing process and lack of chemicals. These particular bags are manufactured in India and I don't have any info about the actual factory. Finally they are free from chemical dyes and additives.
The bags are more expensive. One consumer change I've made is to buy better and buy less. I'm definitely spending more on poo bags but the feeling of satisfaction I get from not adding plastic pollution to our planet is worth it.
My only complaint was the mailer my package arrived in. I would have preferred a mailer without any plastic. There was some extra packaging inside the package, everything was in one of their dog bags, it was wrapped in brown paper and I got a info card (which I turned into a sign) as well as a few free samples.
Dulse & Rugosa has a bundle package right now, with every purchase of our Dog Shampoo Bar will include a sample biodogradable dog poo bag.
And for the foreseeable future purchase of our Mama Earth Shower Shots will go directly to support Houston and possibly FLA SPCA.
Are you ready to join the Plastic Free Produce Movement? It's an easy step on your Zero Waste Journey because Mother Nature has been so generous in her packaging of most fruits and vegetables. Bananas, winter squash, avocados.....the list goes on.
Of course, if you have a garden you understand the joy of plastic free produce. It's also possible to buy produce plastic free with just a bit of effort. The first thing to do is either bring your own produce bags or have a basket to put all you produce in for easy weighing. I was so proud of my first set of produce bags made from an old sheet but found they weren't perfect for produce as the checker didn't know what was inside each bag. It could hold up the checkout line if the store was crowded. My plan is to make some bags out of tulle but honestly I've gotten so use to simply placing most produce right in my basket or cart. You do need a bag for peas, beans, etc.
One important reason to switch to plastic free produce is plastic is not biodegradable while our produce is. It just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. Those teeny tiny pieces often end up in the ocean where they are eaten by sea creatures. If you think about it, these minute pieces of plastic resemble tiny and delicious critters in the ocean food chain.
Also plastic is made from oil, a non-renewable resource. One day we will run out of oil. We need to conserve and use our natural resources rather than squander it covering fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature has already packaged perfectly.
Once you make the switch you do have to be mindful with your produce in the fridge- especially if your bags are not clear. I've had a few very yucky bags of forgotten produce to clean out- but remember it's a process. One change I made was to shop more often but I totally understand if your busy life doesn't allow this. I keep my salad greens right in my salad spinner. I use cloths to keep carrots and beets fresh and try to pay attention to what I have and eat it while it is fresh and tasty.
Anita Horan- a plastic free produce activist from Australia has some great tips on her FaceBook page https://www.facebook.com/anita.the.writer/ and she has started a Plastic Free Produce campaign. She has a template for cards to scatter around the produce department to help raise awareness if you want to become a give up plastic activist- No plastic needed cards.
Going #plasticfreeproduce is a small but important step on the Zero Waste Journey.