Four ways Bottle Branch is working to be greener in 2021

I’ve written before about my efforts to lessen the environmental impacts of my small business, but since sustainability efforts are ALWAYS a work in progress, here’s a quick update about a few more small environmentally-minded changes I’ve made in the past few months. 

(1) Notepad packaging has gone plastic free.

For my notepads, I’m thrilled to have worked out plastic free packaging, in the form of a locally printed kraft paper “belly band” which allows me to include label infomation without having to sheath the entire notepad in plastic. A sticker on the back allows me to include plant identification infomation for plant enthusiasts – one of the details I would not want to give up!

(2) Streamlined card packaging

When packaging individual cards, plastic is hard to avoid. Go to any card display, in any store and you will see what I mean – all sheathed in plastic to protect them for a future buyer. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t be working to improve my packging. This year, I’ve switched to a lighter, non-sealing sleeve for cards, and reconfigured my cards so there will be no sticker on the back. Small changes, but they add up – in just one year, that means over 4 lbs less plastic used in packaging single cards for Bottle Branch. Hooray! And, yes, card sleeves are still made of compostable PLA, not petroleum which means they’re (1) renewable and (2) biodegradable. I’ll keep watching industry trends to see if these too could be switched to paper labelling and I hope you, my friends will let me know if you think the time is right to switch.

(3) Re-using packing materials

This is not a recent change, but re-using materials is worth noting, as we all know that part of sustainability is re-using, in addition to recycling and reducing. So, every time I receive a shipment, I salvage all usable material for re-use. I have a box in the corner of my workshop that holds bubble wrap, air pillows, packing papers until I can re-use them. (My husband, a neat freak, can often be found eyeing the pile up suspiciously.) I’d share a picture of it, but honestly its pretty awful looking, so here’s an image of my box wall instead. 

When packing larger orders and wholesale orders, I first try to pack them in a salvaged box before busting into my supply of fresh shipping materials. This effort undoubtedly requires a little extra time to organize materials, remove old labels, etc. but I consider it worth the effort. Now you’ll know why, if you place a larger order, and it arrives in a funky box.

(4)  Phasing out tissue paper

Finally, I’m in the process of switching from using tissue paper (compostable, only rarely recyclable and not in my area) to kraft paper and newsprint (recyclable AND compostable) when wrapping items to ship. I have to admit I love the pretty patterns and colors of printed tissue, and they are hard to give up. But when a customer gently noted that tissue paper is commonly placed in recycling (or, wish-cycled) and ends up gumming up recycling facilities, I knew I had to make the change. For now, I’m using the last of my tissue paper sparingly and padding things as necessary with recylable paper, and looking for prettier, more sustainable options.

Changing packaging and processes while still managing inventory and orders feels a little like steering an ocean liner – my operation can’t exactly ‘turn on a dime.’ So, while these changes are small, I’ll take a moment to feel good about them, before I move on to figure what’s next as I strive to keep my business fresh and green.

Four ways Bottle Branch is green

greenery in the window bottle branch

I’ve written about how my training as a botanist influences the way I see plants, but I haven’t shared much about how my work in environmental science influences my decisions at Bottle Branch. As someone who once studied carbon dynamics in forests and taught environmental science, I can’t ignore issues of sustainability.

So, here are four ways I try to reduce the environmental impacts of Bottle Branch:

(1) Biodegradable card wrappers

In packaging my cards, sticky notes, stickers, gift tags and notepads, I use clear wrappers that are made from compostable material. They work like plastic and look like plastic, but the clear wrappers I use are made from PLA (polylactic acid) which is derived from plants, not petroleum. They’re a bit more brittle that petroleum-derived plastic, and far from perfect, but they’re biodegradable and renewable. You can read more pros and cons of PLA here and about the biodegradability of PLA here.

(2)  Recycled Card Stock

All my cards are printed on Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified card stock with between 30% and 100% recycled content. What does FSC certification mean?  In short, it means the pulp used to make these papers comes from responsibly managed forests. You can read more about Forest Stewardship Council ceritfication here.  In choosing these card stocks, I hope to support both responsible foresty practices and the market for recycled products.

lady's mantle with droplets bottle branch

(3) Home grown, pesticide free plant material.

Its no secret that I like to garden and to use those homegrown plants and flowers for my art work, because, well, it’s fun! But homegrown plants are also a more sustainable choice – no pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers or long distance transport. When I do buy flowers, I prefer to buy from local, sustainable flower farms like Five Fork Farms.

recycled paper packaging

(4)  Recycled Paper bags, mailers, and tissue paper.

Every order I pack is wrapped in tissue paper made from 100% recycled fibers and shipped in a recycled kraft paper mailer that is made in the USA. Or, if its a local purchase, its delivered in a recycled paper bag. It helps that they’re appealling to the touch and the tissue paper is pretty!

I wish I could write more. I wish I could say all the printing was done using wind or solar power. Or deliveries would be done only in electric vehicles. But in trying not to dwell on all of the other things I could/should be doing to be greener, I’ll remind myself “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” and keep on finding little things to do to keep my business fresh and green.
garden poppies by elizabeth pyle