The Apiary Journal

How to be plastic free and sustainable – UPDATED!

- Corporate Social Responsibility - by Bees for Business

The living sedum roof that insulates the barn, looks great and provides food for nature.

Such was the positive feedback of the first blog I posted back in November 2018, about how we go about helping the environment that I’ve updated it to include several other things we now do either daily or regularly. I hope you enjoy it! [May 2019]

I’m no stereotypical eco warrior or shouty environmentalist but we are often asked about just how we managed to go from not even thinking about the plastic we used, or the food we ate, to award-winning organic farm and the world’s first certified Carbon Neutral honey farm, with positive environmental impact at the heart of everything we do.

I hope these ideas, based on things we do and suppliers we use, will help you, too, to make a positive impact on the environment.

CHOOSE GLASS

If something is available in a glass container, opt for that instead as they are much kinder to the environment when recycled.

Top Tip: sometimes it forced us to choose an alternative supplier because our favourite brand or ingredient wasn’t available in glass and we found that pushing us out of our comfort zone forced us to explore a new brand that we preferred to our previous favourite! Variety is the spice of life! We no longer buy shampoo in a plastic bottle or shower gel, opting instead for soap bars and shampoo bars: literally zero waste!

OUR SUPPLIERS

We used to provide Pukka tea here on our workshops but some of their packaging isn’t recyclable and biodegradable, so we’ve just moved to – and are very excited by – Tea Pigs. ALL of their packaging is recyclable and the tea bag itself is actually made from plant material, so biodegrades. EVERYTHING from Tea Pigs goes on our compost heap and that makes us and the garden very happy! If our suppliers ingredients list palm oil or any non-recycled plastic, we move on to the next supplier – there are plenty to choose from. Neal’s Yard Remedies use organic ingredients and are concerned about their sustainable ethics (we use and stock their Bee Friendly range); True Grace candles, which we burn, are made using sustainable and environmentally friendly practices and are worth every penny for filling the air with their delicious, natural aromas; BeeBee Wraps are a fantastic eco-friendly alternative to plastic for wrapping food and are made using 100% beeswax. For cleaning products including sanitiser and toilet cleaner we use Bio-D, which is a fantastic range of non-harmful cleaning products but that kill all the germs you need them to. Have a read of some of your cleaning products and you’ll be surprised how often phrases like “extremely harmful to aquatic life” and “dangerous to the environment” feature on the labels. There’s an amazing range of cleaning cloths called Eco-Cloth, which you can wash and reuse but in many cases you don’t even need detergent as the cloths have anti-bacterial properties.

Top Tip: don’t feel trapped by the suppliers you see in front of you or that at first appear to be your only option. A tiny bit more effort to ask or search around and you’ll realise that there are LOADS of alternative suppliers for your household and business goods, better for the environment and for you, too.

THE ROOF

When we built our barn for the research and worships, we opted for a living, green roof made up of sedum. It provides year-round colour interest, takes no maintenance except on extremely hot, dry and prolonged summers and also provides pollination sources for our honeybees and guest pollinators!

Top Tip: consider alternative ways to insulate buildings and alternative materials that have multiple benefits to the environment and nature as well as fulfilling your requirements. We save bubble wrap that is sent to us packaging up orders, for example, to insulate the greenhouse over the winter.

OUR ENERGY

We really want to move to biofuel and looked at solar, too, however, both are extremely expensive to set up and we couldn’t afford to move away from oil. We hate having oil but for now, it’s the situation we have, so we use as much alternative energy as possible. We found the electricity supplier Bulb (we have no affiliation with them), who are one of the only energy suppliers of 100% renewable energy. And they supply businesses, too! That means that any electric we use, is from a renewable source and that makes us sleep better at night. Scrap or spare clean wood is used to fuel the pizza oven and provide heating for some of our home, too.

Top Tip: you may have to pay slightly more for renewable energy – it might not be the cheapest, however, it is cheaper than installing a new biofuel system, for example, and the way we look at it is that our paying slightly more is like a donation you’d make to charity but in this case we’re making a donation to improving the environment. When we become certified as Carbon Neutral, we opted to invest our offsetting charges (largely for the diesel truck) in renewable energy so that the whole process goes full-circle.

THE GARDEN

When I hear people cursing the leaves in their garden, I want to ask them if I can have them! We put all of our leaves into either big dry sacks for using in our smokers for the bees or into a simple wrap of chicken wire, secured with cable ties. You have to do absolutely nothing other than pile the chicken wire cage with leaves and within a few months they all break down to create leaf mould; a natural, rich manure for the garden. We mulch with it, add it to compost and it excites me every year!

Top Tip: Everything nature provides can be repurposed with a little thought; even mole hills are beautiful, loamy, soft soil that we shovel up and use for planting. Fallen twigs after high winds? They are perfect for bug houses or kindling wood when dried. We’ve even started experimenting with using conkers as a washing detergent (look it up; it’s fascinating!) and only ever buy washing detergent now when we’ve run out of conkers.  Start to look at your garden and the outside as a source of living symbiotically with nature, not fighting against it.

PLASTIC COMING IN

Sadly very often we receive, from other suppliers, single-use plastic. What we can, we recycle but much of it isn’t recyclable. We have found that supermarkets seem to still be terrible for this and this is why we moved to producing our own fruit and vegetables here on the farm and sourcing from local producers where we can. We keep all of our single use plastic! Much of it gets squashed into plastic bottles, that we also keep, to help make eco bricks – check out Eco Bricks to see how to make your own (it’s really cathartic and great fun for children, too!) and what to do with them afterwards.

Top Tip: When we don’t have plastic bottles (we don’t buy them unless absolutely necessary), we put spare plastic into plant pots to bulk out the bottom, using less soil and making the pots lighter to move. Keep plastic bottles, cut the base off and use them as mini cloches to help protect cuttings and young plants. Or, cut the base off, carefully puncture some holes in the sides and the lid, push into a plant bed or pot and fill with water so that it slowly waters your plants.

CHICKENS

Davina, Jessica and Clarissa the chickens: personality, manure and eggs.

It’s not possible for everyone to have chickens or ducks and some might not want to (I was alsolutely against the idea but instantly fell in love with their personalities and AMAZING fresh eggs). They provide free manure to naturally fertilise your compost heap or garden and of course delicious eggs but even growing a few of your own herbs, fruits or vegetables means less plastic and commercial packaging being used. Easy ones to grow are things like raspberries and blackberries (amazing in a crumble, too… if they last that long!); a small apple tree (the spare apples we use for feeding the chickens, chopping and freezing and making our own juice, which stores in bottles when pasteurised) is entirely self sufficient or why not strawberries? Those are some of the fruits very often sold only in plastic.

Top Tip: Provide your chickens with plenty of stimulation, some shade and all the things they need (organic layers pellets, grain as a treat and various vegetable scraps) and they won’t try to get out! We keep all of our paper waste such as old invoices, junk mail and newspapers, which are shredded and used for chicken bedding. Anything we have to print out ultimately gets used to keep our chickens warm.

OUR PACKAGING

All of our packaging is 100% recyclable, including the paper tape we use to secure the parcels. We also only opt for cardboard that is FSC certified, which means that any trees used to produce it are re-planted. We used to use recycled wood shavings for packing any spare space within the parcels but have since moved to a special shredded cardboard, which is actually a waste product of making cardboard boxes.

Top Tip: if you have some space (a shed, corner of your garage in a spare box, maybe even the loft), keep the bubble wrap and packaging you get from Amazon and things you buy for when you need to wrap or post Birthday or Christmas presents, when friends move house or if you have a greenhouse, for insulating the glass or tender plants during the winter.

FINDING A SOLUTION

We use a lot of nitrile, disposable gloves for tending our bees; partly for helping to protect against any potential stings but also to for ease as beekeeping can get quite sticky and messy. It suddenly struck me one day that we were going through a lot of them and that they aren’t recyclable. A little bit of questioning and internet searching taught me that those blue nitrile gloves like they use in hospital take 20 – 25 years to break down. I was heartbroken. All of the effort we had gone to and every single day we were throwing away plastic. It took AGES to find a supplier but we finally discovered a new nitrile glove that breaks down in just 1 – 2 years.

Top Tip: don’t take “no” for an answer – the reality is that most people don’t look very hard and that even those in the industry often only know what they know. If someone says that a product doesn’t exist, keep looking – there sometimes need to be compromises made but very often a little bit of hard work pays off.

ASH

Ash from our pizza oven and wood burning stove that helps heat the house is used on rose beds, in the compost, and also around tender plants like young plug plants and hostas as slugs don’t like course or gritty substances so it keeps them away from the vegetables and anything tasty!

Top Tip: when the ash is cooled and you’re cleaning out your BBQ or stove, store the cool ash in bags or unused plant pots until you need it next but keep it covered or somewhere dry so it doesn’t become a watery, sludgy mess!

IRRIGATION

At quite an expense we’ve installed an irrigation system that automatically waters the vegetable garden and fruit garden, for example, in the middle of the night when it’s cool, with a saturating mist. This is a much more efficient and economical way of watering, helping to keep everything healthy, whilst at the same time reducing the amount of water used and waste overall.

Top Tip: a cost effective alternative to an irrigation system is a seep hose. Usually made from recycled tyres, they are laid on the ground over plant beds, for example, and connected to the hose. Water slowly seeps out of lots of tiny holes saturating the ground. Put the timer on if you don’t have a timer installed so as not to waste any water, just in case you forget about it.

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