Plastic Free July is a global movement, now in its 10th year. It asks us as consumers and residents of the planet to reduce our plastic consumption and waste. Last year, there were over 250 million participants.
The focus of the movement is on reducing our reliance on single-use plastic. Earlier this year it was just about possible to imagine an end to plastic, but COVID-19 has, without a doubt, changed the game.
Since the pandemic began there has been a notable increase in what you might argue is unavoidable plastic waste - such as gowns, masks and gloves. There has also been increased used of plastic bags, liquid soup, hand sanitisers in plastic bottles and disposable wipes.
While this is completely understandable and necessary at these times, as much as possible we should all still be trying to reduce our use of single-use plastic, without putting our health at risk.
As much as plastic serves a great many purposes, as evidenced on the frontline recently, it also remains a pernicious and fundamental environmental problem.
As a new brand we are very aware that we must do all we can to reduce our negative environmental impact. And while we may be small, here are five things we're doing as a company right now to reduce our reliance on plastic.
And as we're all adapting to a new normal, where home life and work life are colliding, I have included some of the things we are doing as a family to reduce our consumption as well.
1. Jumpers made from 100% natural, untreated wool
All of our jumpers are made from 100% Superfine Merino wool. We do not work with synthetic or blended fibres (where you use two or three different types of yarn), which means our jumpers can either be recycled or they will biodegrade at the end of their life.
We also do not treat our jumpers with any type of chlorine or chemicals to make them 'machine-washable' - this is what we mean by untreated.
All materials of animal and vegetable origin have some degree of biodegradability, meaning that they are capable of being decomposed by the action of living organisms, such as fungi and bacteria.
Wool is composed of the natural protein keratin, which is similar to the protein that makes up human hair. When keratin is broken down naturally by microorganisms, the products do not pose any environmental hazard.
What's more, because we use 100% untreated wool in our jumpers, every time you wash our products, they do not release microfibres into the water. In contrast, a single polyester fleece garment can produce more than 1900 fibres per wash. Ingestion of these fibres has a negative impact on organisms and can, as Woolmark state 'cause death through starvation as plastic replaces food in the stomach.'
You can read more about wool's biodegradability here.
2. Plastic-free packaging
From our Devon-based distribution hub (powered by solar panels), to the customer, we both store and ship our jumpers in 100% organic cotton drawstring bags. These bags are reusable, plastic-free and printed in Sheffield in the UK at a SEDEX certified manufacturer.
There's no sneaky switch over from a plastic polybag to a cotton one. What's more, the organic cotton allows our 100% natural wool jumpers to breathe whilst also protecting them. When it comes to barcoding our bags and jumpers, we tie recycled card and cord around each bag, so we know exactly what style and size the jumper is, thus eliminating the need for any plastic-backed wasteful stickers.
We use kraft paper boxes made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste here in the UK to ship the jumpers, sealing the package using a sticky label made from 100% chlorine-free recycled paper. These boxes can then be used for returns and exchanges and when they reach us, we recycle any boxes that cannot be used again.
3. No plastic tags or cords
Our tags are made from 100% recycled card and are tied to our jumpers using either a 100% natural cotton cord or recycled ribbon that is manufactured from 100% recycled material.
We refuse to use any of those nasty plastic security tags that can be found attached to so many garments today.
To create the recycled ribbon, used plastic bottles are collected via recycling points within Europe. The bottles are thoroughly cleaned then broken down into smaller plastic elements. These plastic flakes are melted back into a liquid form then converted into filaments. A number of filaments are then combined together and spun to create a 100% recycled ribbon.
4. Shipping using cardboard boxes
Behind the scenes, we ship our wool and jumpers from different countries. Our wool is spun at a mill in northern Italy. That spun yarn is then shipped to Portugal, where our small factory is based. From our factory, we then ship our completed jumpers to Devon in the UK.
We use kraft cardboard boxes for each of these stages.
Until most recently, we had eliminated plastic when shipping our jumpers from our Portuguese factory to Devon, but sadly recently, one of the boxes did get very damp and we had some damage. As such, we now have to use a small amount of protective plastic packaging to stop water seeping in. We're currently trying to source something more suitable and sustainable whilst also providing protection from water and damp damage.
5. Our Studio / At Home
The Navygrey studio is based in my back garden. It's also now morphed into a general office for the household, as my husband finds himself working from home in light of COVID-19.
Now that we're based at home almost all of the time and eating every single meal here, we're always looking for ways we can reduce our plastic consumption. For some time now we have had milk delivered from a local supplier in glass bottles. We've switched from bottled liquid soap to bars. We buy loose fruit and vegetables, in paper bags, locally courtesy of some lovely little shops.
We use beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm, although I personally find it isn't always the best for wrapping up food or covering bowls of leftovers. I find these elasticated covers very helpful. They're not as eco-friendly as beeswax wraps, but they remove the need for single-use clingfilm and you can use them again, and again and again. There's a reason my grandparents' generation had nifty things like this in their kitchen cupboards.
We've also just invested in a soda stream gadget so we can produce our own sparkling water - so no more plastic (or glass) bottles.
These are just small things but we know that if we collectively all make little changes like this, we can have a big impact.
That's why we're supporting Plastic Free July as a company and as individuals. We haven't, and perhaps cannot, eliminate plastic completely, but we can reduce our reliance on and need for it. To find out more about Plastic Free July please click here.
Rachel, Founder, Navygrey x