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Snapdragon blog

Our packaging

I've been wondering a lot - when did we begin to use plastic to package everything? I visited Myanmar, in South East Asia, this year and there there is a problem with single use plastic - everything is packed in flimsy single use plastic bags - from takeaway noodles to coffee, hanging like fairground goldfish from bike handlebars. The cities are pristine but as soon as you go out into the countryside there are bonfires burning plastic and drifts of bags blowing along the side of the road.

Yet Myanmar has not been open to a lot of foreign trade for long - this influx of plastic must be recent - so what was used before?

We in the UK have a longer history with plastic, with foam chips and polystyrene - I remember the excitement of popping the bubbles on the first bubble wrap I came across, which must have been the late 1970s or early 1980s. That wasn't that long ago, so what did we use before?

I grew up in an antique dealing house - an awful lot of my childhood was spent packing up china and glass and moving it in cardboard boxes from auction house to home, to antique fairs, to market stalls. Unpacking it, setting it up for sale, packing for customers or wrapping to take home again - depending on the success of the day.

We used newspaper. Layers of newspaper carefully wrapped round handles. Saucers wrapped and stacked on end, cups nestled together. There were very few breakages.

There was skill involved - you had to think about what went where and keep things snug in the box, it was a messy job because newsprint got into your hands, but it worked.

So, earlier this year, when we began to re-jig all our packaging that is where I began. What did we do before plastic? Could we go back?

Reduce, Recycle, Reuse - that has been the green mantra for years - and it is what we have been trying to follow as we change things up.

And so we have been experimenting with how we can start again from the beginning.

We kept a note of breakage levels that we had using bubble wrap and 2 layers of cardboard boxes so that we have a base line and then we have been changing things to be more ecologically responsible as and when our existing packaging ran out. (For the record we still have some plastic sleeves for notebooks which we are continuing to use for Not on the High Street orders until they run out.)

We decided to run the experiment for 3 months and look at number of breakages (because having to replace broken orders is not exactly environmentally friendly either) and then rethink if necessary.

This is where we are. All general cardboard, paper and tissue that we use is - as it has been for 3 years - FSC approved, all tape used is paper tape, our thank you postcards are on 100% recycled paper stock and more often than not are cut down misprinted ones that I would rather use up. All are obviously recyclable.

Our string is either jute or vintage yarn from my personal stash that I'm trying to use up. We made the decision to be lavish with this in the hope that this helps it to be reused by customers.

Mugs -

I spent a catharctic hour wrapping and throwing misprinted mugs about the workshop and we ended up with packaging that provides as much protection as bubble wrap but contains no plastic. The mugs are wrapped in an unbleached recycled unprinted newspaper type paper (so no messy hands) and then put into a paper bag and wrapped a bit like an old fashioned sandwich bag with string and a label.

kit packaging

Boxed kits -

We decided to take a different approach with our boxed kits - spending more on creating packaging that is sturdy enough to be kept and reused, either as storage or as a plant pot. Again they are tied with string and we use either tissue or paper to wrap everything inside.

kit packaging

Bagged Kits -

We decided that some of our kits would actually be better in bags - for example the knitting kit, the paint a birdhouse kit - as it is handy storage and can be reused again and again. The bags we use are made from organically grown and unbleached cotton and we are printing them in-house so that we can make really small runs of products and avoid waste.

kit packaging

The experiment runs until Monday officially - but, unless there are any last minute surprises, it is very much on a par with then we used bubble wrap. We have learned that boxes have to be stuffed tight so that the contents won't move at all - so we need to use extra sheets of the unprinted newspaper to pad them out. We have also learned that quite frankly there are some places (like France) where post gets a really, really hard time and that there is not much you can do. We are currently stockpiling reused bubble wrap to pad out French orders.

Recycling - This obviously deals with the orders we are sending out, but what about the things we get sent? Some suppliers have us rolling our eyes in horror - and we do let them know that more environmentally responsible packaging matters to us. Realistically we are a tiny business but we hope that if enough tiny businesses raise the matter then things will change and we will not be sent random bits of polystyrene.

Cardboard is either used in the compost heap, as a mulch in the garden or fed to the worms. I am very excited about the potential for the wormery as wet cardboard is the worms favourite snack. We save bubble wrap and other plastic packaging. The horrible polystyrene gets broken up as crocks in the big planters to save on weight and compost. Pallets either become building materials or kindling when we can't send them back.

That leaves us with pallet wrap - like large scale clingfilm, plastic straps that bind boxes down, and lots and lots of plastic bags. We are working on it.

I would love to know whether getting detailed information about this kind of thing is useful and interesting to you? We try to balance safety, attractiveness, and being kind to the environment in the way we package things. We are improving day by day by day but we would love your feedback.

Tags: eco living

Comments: 8 (Add)

Jo Norman on May 31 2019 at 11:34

I always note how things arrive as I love getting things that need to be "unwrapped". I have moved away from plastic bags/tissue paper to colourful dotty paper bags for my packaging and I love it. I still seem to generate a lot of waste plastic though - all to do with labels. Postage labels, address labels, stickers - have you found an alternative for sticky labels that come backed on plastic?

Snapdragon Jane on May 31 2019 at 12:49

Jo - the stickers are a problem - we recently got some printed paper tape to replace most the stickers we used to use simple because of this. It still leaves the Royal Mail labels through which are the main unrecyclable rubbish in our office bin. I know that they are aware of the problem though, so hopefully alternatives will come through in time. J x

Su Lawrence on May 31 2019 at 14:53

Love this post Jane.. I've also been looking to reduce my plastic, cutting plastic products and managed to cut out bubble wrap a long while ago. Although I'm still using up a big stash of envelopes that have bubble wrap inside, but once gone i'm going to replace these with printed cardboard boxes. But in terms of products coming in, so much plastic, every single item is wrapped in plastic, its a nightmare.

Snapdragon Jane on May 31 2019 at 14:57

Thanks Sue - yes it is so important to use up all the existing things - but so tempting to just have a clean sweep.
I think that the message will eventually filter down to the bigger suppliers - it will be much more of a job to work out alternatives for the wrap on pallets etc. so I'm keeping my fingers crossed;
J x

Claudette Forman on June 1 2019 at 15:19

I loved this post, we’ve been conscious of reducing the amount of waste we have in our home. Today I received a parcel from Hobbycraft & am horrified at the amount of plastic packing that was in my box! As well as several empty boxes to keep it in place, unbelievable! As a lady on Springwatch said, it isn’t hard if we all start in our own back yard.

Susan Cole on June 2 2019 at 16:42

Always interesting to hear about the realities of small businesses trying to reduce their plastic. Also a bonus if you happen to be a packaging geek like me :) x

Vanessa Dennett on June 2 2019 at 21:16

I loved reading this, so thank you for taking the time to write it. It's fascinating to see how much thought you have put into your packaging - reassuring and inspiring too. I've loved the parcels I've received from you and it feels good to be supporting small businesses who are making these important changes. The effects ripple....... and that's what adds up to bigger change. x

Helen on June 18 2019 at 13:00

Great article Jane, informative as well as topical. I have a recycling blog post waiting in the wings I shall be publishing soon... are you happy for me to link to this post?

Snapdragon social

This is my current work in progress.⁠⠀
It will eventually be a big cabled throw - the silk I'm using is pretty chunky so it should be a fairly quick knit. ⁠⠀
The preparation will take longer though.  I wanted to make something for our home that is really connected to this place.  Something dyed with the plants that grow here.  Something slow.⁠⠀
The yarns in the photo were dyed in early September with plants from the garden - the yellow is dahlia flowers, the greyish green is dahlia leaves with some iron, the paler blue grey is woad (next year I shall grow more to get deeper colours). The linen cloths were dyed with avocado.⁠⠀
This afternoon I plan to cut some willow to soak for another hank.  I have 12 hanks and a wound ball in total.⁠⠀
I found the silk in a giant yarn stash that lives at my Mum's house, I can't remember where we got it but it would have been bought in the late 1980s when we led each other astray in yarn buying sprees.⁠⠀
Do you ever find echoes of your childhood home in your current one?  If so, do you find it a bit like realising that you've begun to sound exactly like your Mum?⁠⠀
I grew up in a house with a butler's pantry - it was a small corridor like room between the kitchen and the dining room.⁠⠀
One side of the room was all cupboards, where plates and cutlery were stored, the other side was one of those amazing curved metal 1950s English Rose sinks.⁠⠀
The butler was, of course, long gone. ⁠⠀
Last month we redecorated our own 'pantry' - a small room between the open plan kitchen and the bedrooms.  It is really more of a large alcove than a proper room, there are no windows and only 3 walls.  It was a squalid mess 90% of the time as people dumped things.⁠⠀
I decided that proper storage was the answer - we got the red dresser I posted last month, we relocated shelves and tables from elsewhere in the house and then we put up this antique glass fronted wall cabinet for the china and glass.⁠⠀
As I walked past this morning I recognised the feel - I had made a little C19th butler's pantry in my 1980s bungalow! ⁠⠀
I could, of course, do with the butler.
Small things that mean home.⁠⠀
What is the first thing you do when you get home from holiday?⁠⠀
On Sunday when we arrived back  from holiday I took my snips out to see what I could find in the frosted garden to put in a vase by the front door.⁠⠀
It's nothing fancy - some starry bright common asters, deep pink persicaria, scabious and dill - all set off with blousy Japanese anemones. But for me it is a beautiful distraction from the piles of laundry and unpacked cases.⁠⠀
The engraved glass plate is by @janeraven ⁠⠀
It’s the last day of our holiday - by lunchtime we will be back in the air and headed for London to catch up with our girls over dinner. 
For the past two weeks we have been staying high in the mountains, about half an hour from Split in Croatia, an area of stunning beauty - It is the end of season, the verges are baked to straw, the trees full of olives and pomegranates, paths are lined with a white flowered thyme. 
For me the fortnight has been a game of magic eye, squinting against the sun, suddenly spotting drifts of ‘love in a mist’ seedheads, the remains of white scabious, sweet scented clematis a few flowers on their second bloom, delphiniums, euphorbia, lambs ears and great spikes of campanula growing from the rocks. All wild, all natural, all in just the right place. 
It has been a wonderful break - and now I’m looking forward to getting home and making plans and getting everything out of my head and onto paper.
Yesterday, taking advantage of my calm, clear, well holidayed head, I wrote down a 3 year goal along with the 3 things I need to do consistently for it to happen and I emailed it to some friends who I know will root for me, keep me on track and cheer each time I get a step nearer. ⠀
Having lots of friends who I absolutely know will be happy for me when something goes well is a relatively new thing. In many ways I think friends for good times are more difficult to find than friends for bad. ⠀
Who are your cheerleaders? ⠀
Back in my previous life as a flower grower and wedding florist, this time of year was the most stressful. Economically it was essential, but the borrowed time, watching the garden slow down, waiting for a night cold enough to turn everything black was tense. ⠀
I rarely agreed to October weddings, but sometimes I was persuaded, because when they work they work so beautifully- the vulnerability of the flowers somehow glowing through. ⠀
This mug - officially Autumn meadow - is ‘Christine’s mug’ in my head. A mix of teasels and echinacea rebloom, some startlingly tall blue forget me nots on second flowering, and damp fennel seed heads, put together to decorate a tiny stone church 12 years ago. ⠀
The mug comes into the ‘we forgot to put it on the website’ category - that has been rectified now and you can get to it via the link in my profile.
It seems to be something that creeps up, tangling your feet, muddling your head- not all that noticeable until you begin to break through it. 
Or maybe it is visible there, as a shortness of breath, a tightening of shoulders, a fear of crowds. 
I am spending this weekend untangling my head by the sea in Croatia . Swimming and sitting still and decluttering my mind. 
And in the place of all the numbing fears and doubts, the undermining feelings that nothing makes a difference anyway, have slid in clear plans and steps and intentions. As if by magic. 
Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  What do you do to shake it off?
These are the kinds of dahlias that I'm going to be planting more of next year. ⁠⠀
They are described as blue (which is obviously not the case - oh those lying insta filters!), they are pretty useless as cut flowers, they get easily damaged in the rain.⁠⠀
But, oh how the bees LOVE them.⁠⠀
So, therefore, do I.⁠ ⠀
We begin our beekeeping course next month - making sure we have some good basic knowledge before the bees themselves arrive in the spring. ⠀
I’m very excited. Are you planning to learn anything new over the winter?

About Snapdragon

At Snapdragon we gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Through our communities, both free and paid for, through Jane's writing on the blog, through carefully hand crafted gifts and activity kits, and through our online and in-person workshops we aim to bring people back in touch with the rhythms of a seasonal life.

Learn more about why here