In order to understand what makes a zero waste business, let’s go over a quick definition first!
What is zero waste?
In simple terms, zero waste is a goal of maximizing our planet’s resources by keeping resources in the life cycle and out of the landfill. The ideas behind the zero waste movement center around redesigning our lives and environments so that our resources remain in a cycle of creation, use, and recycling.
What is a zero waste business?
A zero waste business embraces this philosophy of maximizing and reusing resources throughout every stage of design, production, distribution, use, and recycling or reuse. In addition to considering the life cycle of all materials used in a business, zero waste philosophy means working with sustainable resources, such as recycled or all-natural, biodegradable materials.
What makes No Trace a zero waste business?
At No Trace, I think about what it means to be a zero waste business every day, and about where my raw materials are coming from, and where they will end up. I also think about how my pieces are made and the overall impact of their creation. I ask myself: what good will this product have on the planet and for the people who use it? Here are the steps I take towards zero waste. Note that I don’t claim to be perfect or to have all the answers, but I am doing my best to be sustainable. If you have ideas or suggestions for me, please share! I am always open to improvement.
- Use of raw materials that are sustainable
- I use only 100% natural, biodegradable materials in all of my production. This includes 100% cotton thread, 100% natural fiber fabric, and 100% natural and biodegradable fabric paint (which I make).
- I use only use organic cotton or recycled cotton fabric. The production of organic cotton does not pollute our soil or water with toxic chemicals as does conventional cotton. Whenever possible, I source fabrics from second-hand sources (i.e., thrift stores) and repurpose them into functional pieces for the zero waste home.
- My racks are made by me with untreated wood. This keeps them free of toxins and means that they can easily be composted or used in the occasional bonfire :).
- I’ve started using old corks and transforming them into buttons.
- Raw materials are obtained with minimal packaging.
- This means avoiding plastic bags or any unnecessary packaging. I buy my beeswax from local bee farmers free of packaging whenever possible. I buy with recyclable packaging when I can’t get things package-free. I always consider the type of packaging before purchasing, and make purchasing decisions based on the packaging.
- 2020 update: I use terracycle.com to recycle unwanted packaging that I receive from suppliers.
- Tools and equipment are obtained second-hand whenever possible.
- Most of the equipment used in making my beeswax wraps, for example, is from second hand stores. Used tools and equipment are my first choice for all required No Trace equipment.
- Equipment used in markets and fairs is mostly second hand or borrowed. In fact, I may have overstayed my borrowing welcome with some friends on a few pieces 🙂 …
- No waste is made in the creation of No Trace pieces.
- Every scrap bit of thread and fabric is saved and repurposed into something else. For example, I’ve made paper from thread bits and cell phone cases from fabric bits. I’ve made twine and drawstring ties from long thin pieces of fabric scraps, including the selvage edge.
- Every bit of paper is saved and turned into handmade paper. I incorporate bits and strands of thread into this paper.
- Patterns are designed with a minimizing of scraps in mind.
- Right now, after about a year of production, I have less than one jar of waste from No Trace. It is almost all stickers. I’ve considered trying to turn them into a collage…I’m not sure how appealing this collage would be, though. For now they are snug in my jar.
- No Trace packaging is eco-friendly.
- I use recycled paper and paper twine to package my pieces. Both of these can be composted or recycled. I recently learned that it’s better to compost small pieces of paper that otherwise get lost in the recycling process. My recommendation is to compost the twine and paper unless your recycling plant has a specific paper pick up that minimizes loss.
- I use recycled mailing materials whenever possible, and print directly onto my envelopes when possible. I have had to print mailing labels on a few occasions, which results in these small squares of waxed paper. These have several uses, apparentely, so I’m saving them for a TBD project or to pass on to another artist. Contact me if you have any interest.
- 2020 update: I now use ecoenclose.com for recycleable shippling labels and paper tape! I use terracycle.com to recycle the original liners that I haven’t found a use for or a person who wants them :).
- No Trace pieces are designed to stay out of the landfill.
- Don’t throw it out! No Trace pieces are designed to last a very long time. When the fabric starts to wear out after a number of years, it can be repurposed into a cleaning rag and eventually composted, or, in the case of beeswax wraps, re-waxed after a year or more.
- I am always here and available for any end-of-life needs around your No Trace products – just ask! Think of me as hospice for your pieces 🙂 . Depending on the supply of aged No Trace products, I’d love to incorporate these scraps into new designs where possible.
- No Trace is solar powered!
- No Trace is still based out of my home, but my home is solar powered! Well, to be technical, my family pays extra to the electric company so that we can subsidize solar and other green sources of energy to the grid, in an amount that offsets the electricity that we use each month. Does that make sense? I didn’t think so. It doesn’t to me, either. But there you have it. No Trace uses green energy.
- 2020 update: our house is now officially solar panel-powered, which means No Trace is solar-panel powered. About 80% of our power comes directly from our solar panels!
- No Trace is bicycle powered!
- Okay, this is a stretch for me, but whenever possible I DO make local deliveries by bike, especially to the shops in the Capitola area that carry my goods.
- No Trace is Prius powered!
- That’s more like it. I roll-up to the farmer’s market in the Prius. Yes, it all fits. I can even squeeze two kids and a grown up in the car with me. BOOM.
- 2020 update: we now have an electric car that I use for local deliveries!
There is always room for improvement in growing a zero waste business. I’m hoping to find more sources of package free raw materials. I’d love to extend my bicycle deliveries around town. And I know there are steps towards sustainability that aren’t even on my radar. But the efforts I’m making so far feel like a strong start.
Thanks for reading!
Liz @ No Trace
P.S. If you want more help in starting your own zero waste Etsy shop, I offer individual coaching here.