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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.

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

Yesterday marked 32 years since Euan and my first date. I spent time looking through photo albums for a record of that time. There weren’t any photos - I don’t think I had a camera or the cash needed to develop photos back then - but there were a few pressed flowers. ⠀
I don’t know what they were from, I should have labelled them, but they obviously meant enough to keep. ⠀
This photo is of the little brass frame from our Flower Press kit that was the most recent Studio Box. We have a few left packed up and after that it will be repackaged as a more expensive gift version. ⠀
If you were thinking of buying one, either as a one off or as the start of a quarterly subscription you can find out more by clicking the link in my profile.
Poppies are really the best cut flowers. Especially if you are stuck inside and can watch them gradually open. All varieties work - from wild corn poppies to the flamboyant oriental poppies. ⠀
Cut them in full bud, if you can see the petals just about to burst through that’s perfect. ⠀
Sear the bottom inch of stem in boiling water for 5 seconds and then arrange. The lower stem will go black so best in an opaque vase. ⠀
If you recut above the black line you need to re-sear. ⠀
They should last 5 days. 5 days of wonder.
Yesterday was the first hot day, the first day in the garden when I didn’t feel that all my poor plants are shivering and shrinking. ⠀
It was also the first day for weeks that I had completely clear, no plans, no work, nothing but time to potter and plant. Glorious. ⠀
What is your weekend like? ⠀
(Today it is back to being windy but I don’t care as I’m also back at work, prepping everything so that we are ready to send out the magazine part of A Seasonal Way next week)
How do you manage different layers of privacy, vulnerability and messy beginnings online?  I was musing about this yesterday, all the different things I put out into the world - and how I choose where to post them. ⠀
How I choose what to post here, what goes out in my general newsletter, what goes into my Studio Members Newsletter and what gets posted into my (free) closed Facebook Group Snapdragon Studio Bee. ⠀
It’s all subtle stuff, the difference I suppose in what you would talk about in a live interview and what you would chat to the interviewer about later, off the record, over coffee. Both conversations are likely honest and true, but one might still be evolving and feel too unformed, too fragile for public consumption.⠀
I’ve decided to document my beginnings with screen printing in the Snapdragon Studio Bee Facebook Group - it’s a really supportive group and I’ve no fear of judgment in there - if you want to join you would be really welcome. It’s thankfully not a competitive, ego driven group so I think I will feel very comfortable sharing the things that don’t work as well as those that do.
Yesterday was a stressful day.  Our big printer, which does all the textile things, keeled over with a fatal error.⠀
Repair is seemingly not possible, replacement too expensive.  We had to take about 40% of the things we sell off various websites.  It's not ideal.⠀
But after I'd got over the frustration of number crunching and having to cancel orders, it seemed like an opportunity really.⠀
Val and I have been talking about screen printing since the beginning of the year - it is one of the reasons we cleared the workshop so that there is a long central working space.⠀
I want to be able to draw directly on the screens - and play about with the technique a bit, make the results really immediate, sketched, mine.⠀
I've ordered supplies and will be working away playing with the technique over the next week or so.⠀
Sometimes it seems that when I don't move fast enough towards something, fate just seems to create mayhem until there are no other options left but to just ‘do it’. ⠀
Does anyone else find that?
What is your favourite way to make a house a home? 
I'm not a tidy person - my natural persona is more like Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the Cat in the Hat, everywhere I have been, there is a trail of mess left behind. ⠀
When I wanted to leave my job as a museum curator Euan said I could do anything I wanted to, he would always support my decision, as long as I didn't attempt to become a housewife because I would be truly terrible at it.⠀
On Tuesdays though Izabella comes and cleans the house for us (this is why my embroidery morning is a Tuesday, so I can keep out of the way)⠀
Walking back into the house on a Tuesday lunchtime is always such a lovely feeling - the kitchen is tidy, the floors mopped, order is restored.⠀
I try to take advantage of the sense of homeliness by doing some of the things I am good at - arranging flowers, cooking.  Often I do so much of these faffing about domestic things that I have managed to make the kitchen a mess by the time anyone else gets home.⠀
The plum poppies are blooming.  A week late, but here to say happy anniversary Jenny and Jeremy. #ayearinflowers #week24
How tidy are you? Do you like everything out and to hand or do you prefer clear surfaces and blank space?

It’s Tuesday today so that means my embroidery day as I build up a little collection of limited edition works which then go up into the webshop on the last Friday of each month. (Studio members get first dibs and then the link goes into my newsletter later in the day)

I took this photo yesterday afternoon of the bench that is next to my sewing machine. Untidied, un-arranged, but with rather nice light coming in the window. 
There is a half made doorstop, some piles of cut wool to be embroidered and the threads I like to have near at hand. You can see that the wall where I work used to have tiles on it, you can see that I’m neither neat nor organised. 
Showing my day - a 10 second photo, full of reality, potential, and life is what I meant when I talked about doing and Social media last week. 
I welcomed the rain yesterday - it didn't seem so bad to be indoors proofing the final version of the A Seasonal Way magazine.⠀This goes alongside the e-course and community and is at the heart of the whole thing 🌱
It goes to print tomorrow so I need to decide the final numbers today.  I'm not going to be able to print another run, but equally I don't want to be left with lots of copies.⠀
So today is the last day to order to guarantee that your A Seasonal Way has a hard copy rather than a digital copy of the magazine part.⠀
This article is about off grid holidays, why they appeal and what we get from them.  The mug in the background with coffee is by @amandabanhamceramics.⠀
You can find out more about the A Seasonal Way course by clicking through my profile, or in the A Seasonal Way story highlight.  I would love it if you felt you could share about what I'm doing here!  The more people join in, the better the community will be.

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