What did the World use as Packaging before Plastic?

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What did the World use before plastic existed? The answer is ‘jute’. Jute is a reed which grew in the rivers around Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, India. It is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus Capsularis) and to a lesser extent from tossa jute (C. olitorius). Jute was woven into sack cloth and used to transport everything from potatoes to coal. In Britain, Dundee was the capital of jute manufacturing for the UK.

Jute is a natural product and should be at the forefront of any moves towards sustainable production and transport of goods. It is known as ‘the golden fibre’ partly due to its lovely shine and colour and also due to its ability to be woven into various textiles. It is incredibly strong when woven. But it is 100% biodegradable and therefore – more environmentally friendly. It is versatile and can be used as a yarn on its own, woven with other fibres and also made into more rigid products like baskets.

Perhaps jute is not confined to the history books and is about to have a resurgence? What do you think? It’s an annual crop which takes only 120 days to grow, during the summer months (May, June, July, August). It’s a rain-fed crop, with no need for fertilisers or pesticides. It also produces good yields, making it a very affordable crop.

Note: If this subject interests you, then you should catch up with Joanna Lumley’s India on the ITV Hub.

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Plastic-free Pets

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I experienced an unexpected and irritating plastic-related scenario today. We are considering adopting another cat from a shelter and so we made enquiries. We were told by the shelter that under no circumstances could we take a cat home in anything other than a plastic carrier, since they deem anything but plastic to be ‘insecure’.

We purposely chose a natural and sustainable wicker carrier for our cats. In all my 34 years of owning cats, we have never used anything else and not once has a cat ever escaped. It does make me wonder what the world is coming to. We are offering a homeless, unloved cat a loving home and they want to refuse us unless we are prepared to spend out on a plastic cat carrier.

This is our cat carrier shown above and I have inspected it and failed to find anyway that it is insecure. There is about 1 inch give in the top and bottom which a cat could never fit through. Besides, I can easily remedy that with a few more leather buckled straps top and bottom. I suspect I have two options from here: to explain that I choose to live plastic-free and offer to leave my carrier with them whilst I borrow one of their plastic ones and return it later. Or, find someone willing to lend me a plastic one for a single journey so I can comply with their daft rules!

Have you ever come across any bonkers plastic-related rules? How did you overcome them?

Lush

Today I want to write about a local, ethical and sustainable business called Lush. Chances are, you’ve probably heard of them already- I think they’re best known for the bath bombs and the amazing smells that emanate from their stores!

Ever since I read Bea Johnson’s Book about a year ago, I have been looking for Zero Waste toiletries. Lush immediately sprang to mind, as I knew a tiny bit about them- in the recesses of my mind, probably because they are local. I’ll admit that I wasn’t that keen on them- I found the smell in their stores completely over-powering and even walking too close, when passing by was too much for me! I’d even been given the odd bar of soap and not liked the smell, so sold it on eBay.

However, things were different this time- I wasn’t looking just to purchase toiletries- I was looking for a more ethical, zero waste purchase. They are in-fact pretty unique, as most organic toiletries are still packaged in plastic. As shampoo and conditioner were the things I was about to run out of, I tried their solid shampoo and conditioner bars. They were fab, completely unpackaged, free of silicones and very convenient- as they last much longer than bottles. We have never looked back, even though we’re paying slightly more for our toiletries. I now have total peace of mind that we’re doing our bit for the environment and are supporting a local business, thus also keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible. They are actually made about 3 miles from my house- although I have to drive over twice as far to get to a store!

I recently placed my 1st online order as they had a sale and I wanted to share this with you, as a great example of a sustainable company working towards zero waste.

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A recycled cardboard box arrived, sealed with paper tape. The first thing that hits you is the gorgeous smell coming from the box- unfortunately I can’t convey this over the web!

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Inside was a copy of my order and ingredients lists for all the products I had ordered, all printed two-sided on recycled paper. I felt this was a little unnecessary for me personally, as I am perfectly capable of going online to check these things. I am going to contact them and ask if they could provide an option to opt out of paper communications in your order.

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Your order comes packaged in what looks like polystyrene chips, but they are in-fact Eco Chips! They are completely biodegradable and one of their assistants recently gave me a demo in-store, where they dissolve completely in water. They are made from potato starch and also biodegrade quickly in soil. I will be keeping mine for re-use, in one of my many eBay parcels. I will make sure I make a note to tell their future recipient about them.

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This was my order- all safely stowed underneath. As you can see, most of the products I ordered are solid and come completely unpackaged. In the top right are solid conditioner bars, but because I ordered so many (I stocked up at 1/2 price!) that little cardboard box contains 8 more. Disappointingly, it is sealed with plastic tape- another thing I will be contacting them to ask about!

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So here are all my goodies in their unpacked glory. I have got my first unpackaged Lush soap to try- it’s the rectangular one in the middle and is marzipan fragranced. Above this is a yellow, citrus ‘massage bar’- this is actually a solid body lotion. The bright pink and green items are solid conditioners, as you can see it’s stamped on them. I’ve got the pink one to try because at 1/2 price it’s a good opportunity to do so- as Lush recommend. This is also why I bought the gift set.

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The Winter Garden gift set is a giant metal bauble and is packed inside with Eco Chips to protect the contents. I will re-use this to make a gift for someone in the future.

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Inside, a tub of hand cream, a rose jam shower gel and an Elder and Bergamot solid soap. Lush pots are made from 100% recycled black plastic (polypropylene) which is far more easily recycled. They have also changed their labels from paper to plastic, so that they can all be recycled together. Lush seek to make their  plastic recycling activities closed loop, in turn creating zero waste and so customers are encouraged to return empty, washed pots to their store. They offer an incentive of a free face mask for every 5 full-sized pots returned. This initiative is mentioned on a sticker on the side of their pots. They also moved production from China to a factory in Poole, 1 mile away from their own- so their carbon footprint has been massively reduced too. this in-turn is further supporting the local economy. There is also a mini brochure containing details of most of their products available in store. Again, I would prefer not to have this but I understand they might want to promote their products to people who wouldn’t normally purchase them and don’t know about their ethics.

This little lot cost me around £50 in the sale, including delivery which was a really good deal. Lush only have a sale once a year and it only contains short-dated products and Christmas gift sets. This is because they believe that they are charging a fair price all year round, for their ethically sourced, handmade and zero waste products. I find it really helps me when I’m shopping, as I’m not tempted to buy things that I don’t need and I’m not (normally) tempted to stock up. As their items are made using minimal preservatives, they are best used fresh. But solid items do have a longer shelf-life, since they don’t have as much water in them. If you go in-store, they will package your solid items in a recycled paper bag or  you can buy metal tins to fit them which you can then re-use. I also take my paper bags back each time and re-use them until they fall apart.

Overall, I feel enormously proud to be supporting this local company. They have been around for over 20 years- let’s hope they are here for many, many more!