Going green: "Start as you mean to go on..."
"Start as you mean to go on..."
This is what Lorna, my wife, said to me when I started the Crooked Pickle Co. and it has since become a guiding principle of the business. As someone who likes the allure of a shortcut or two, this principle reminds me constantly to do things properly and not to cut corners for the sake of saving pennies or minutes. I have since applied this principle to all areas of the business; I keep my accounts up-to-date, I've achieved a 5/5 food hygiene rating, and so on. All very straightforward and easy to implement. However, applying this principle to the environmental side of the business has been harder than expected...
From the very beginning I wanted the business to be "greener than our pickle logo". Naturally you might ask "how can something that is already very green be even greener?" Well that is exactly the point! I want to constantly look at how I can make the business more environmentally friendly. From production to packaging to transport to the end user - all aspects need to be considered and evaluated.
What I encountered was a minefield of hurdles! Below are a few examples of what mean by that:
Cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic, cauliflowers and carrots in plastic bags, everything in plastic, plastic, plastic! How could I, a tiny business, fight against the tide of plastic? In truth, I couldn't. So I decided to take my business elsewhere and get my supplies from a lovely local wholesaler (Winster Foods). Sure, some items are still wrapped in plastic (blasted cucumbers - why!?) but now my carrots and caulis and onions are loose and free from the suffocating plastic. My wholesaler has also become my one-stop-shop and is only 5 minutes away so that means less food miles as I am not travelling to various places trying to get my ingredients and less plastic waste generated..
Next on the list was packaging. Our glass jars and metal lids are fully recyclable so nothing needed changing there. Our labels are recyclable but I want them to be biodegradable. This is currently prohibitively expensive due to the large volumes required. The packaging for our web-shop orders is fully recyclable; cardboard boxes made of recycled materials, filling "peanuts" made of water soluble starch and box tape that is recyclable too. So we've achieved 100% recyclable packaging there - big pat on the back!
Not so fast! We have a customer based in London who regularly orders a pallet of our Bread & Butter Pickles. Here we could package our pickles in plastic buckets - so ubiquitous in commercial catering - as they are lighter and sturdier than glass, but we want to avoid being part of the single-use plastic problem. So in glass jars our pickles go.The problem with shipping filled glass jars, that weigh 3.5kg apiece, is that they are very fragile and prone to breaking. One solution is to wrap each jar in a protective layer of bubble wrap and stick these in a box of 4 or 6. Ah, bubble wrap, not very environmentally friendly. Correct. So far we have used standard bubble wrap due to no alternative being available. However, I have recently discovered a bubble wrap that is made of biodegradable material! So as of the next order we will be using this product. It is 150% more expensive than standard bubble wrap but I can't bear the thought of making a cost saving on packaging whilst adding unnecessarily to landfill.
This obviously affects our bottom line and is a bitter pill to swallow, but I find solace in the knowledge that I am trying to do my bit for the environment. Who knows, perhaps in the not too distant future all single use plastic packaging will be phased out. There is a strong possibility that that will happen and when it does, my business won't need to adapt because it is already plastic free.
One business that is already ahead of the curve in all environmental aspects is Carley's of Cornwall. It is run by Lorna's uncle's brother-in-law (her uncle-in-law?) John Carley and his wife Shirley. From humble beginnings as a wholefood shop in 1974 to a brand new Eco factory that is zero waste and zero carbon, their journey and guiding ethos is truly inspiring.
Whenever I struggle with the concept of starting as I mean to go on, I think of Carley's as they are proof that sticking to your principles is not only possible but also worthwhile in the long run.