Thinking about plastic free / compostable packaging...
About three years ago I decided to try and make shampoo bars. They were increasing in
popularity, so this made sense from a business point of view, and not buying shampoo and
conditioner would suit my goal to try and limit the number of single use plastics in our
home. The year before I had read a wonderful article about how, as individuals, we might
feel that turning the tide on plastic waste is a Sisyphean task, but if we each did just one
thing to combat it in our own lives the cumulative effect would be game changing. We had
already been using Cheeky Wipes instead of baby wipes since the birth of our twins, so I
knew that swaps were achievable, but I also knew that there were reasons we didn’t live a
plastic free life: some swaps are harder than others. I decided to give up one type of single
use plastic a year, starting with cling film. Definitely achievable. The next year, using only
shampoo bars proved a little bit more problematic.
I did a lot of research, tried a few from other makers, and formulated a recipe. The soap was
lovely, success was imminent. Except that it didn’t work for me. My husband was fine, but
the combination of my thick, long hair; our hard water and a shampoo bar just wasn’t a
good one. And I tried everything, read every article, made every recipe change.
I didn’t have a good hair day for two years.
I abandoned the project and started using Dr Bronner castile soap as a compromise, and it is
better, and although it comes in a plastic bottle it lasts a good year.
I knew when I started thinking about turning my soap making hobby into a business that an
important part of the brand would be eco consciousness. Firstly, because it was important
to me personally, and secondly, because I believe that it is important to other people, and if
it isn’t, it is up to producers to be conscious of their impact on the environment and to pass
on a responsible attitude.
I wanted to be plastic free, I wanted to be compostable, I wanted to source locally and from
small, independent businesses staffed by people I could phone up if I had a question. I set
up a list of ideals and then I googled. And I compromised.
I learnt that ‘compostable’ can have a variety of meanings, and that peoples own ideas
about what you can and can’t compost vary just as greatly. The paper I wrap my soaps in is
made from renewable plant-based materials, is unbleached, and certified compostable – if it
lands up in a landfill, it will break down quicker than other packaging and won’t leave
anything harmful behind. Paper can obviously also be recycled. My labels – and the adhesive – are also compostable, made from linen, hemp, and sugar cane bi-products. The tins I use are aluminium, 100% recyclable and reusable. The wee wooden labels are made on the island by Simon from The Seahorse shop, and the bakers twine comes from an art supply shop in Manchester.
I am no expert on plastic free packaging, recycling, or composting, but I am trying and
learning, and I can see as I go on that my compromises are fewer and making changes is
easier. I know that we must work with what we’ve got, and I know that I’m part of a bigger
movement that’s moving forward all the time. And that makes me proud.