How Eco-friendly is Bird & Blend?
One our founding principles is to do our bit for the planet. Driven heavily by Mike & Krisi themselves, leading positive change in the world around us is very important to us at B&B.
This was Krisi & Mike's first 'business plan', scribbled on a note book in a Canadian pub back in 2012! You can see (if you can read the scrawl!) that the first two things they wrote down were: No Waste, & Environmental responsibility!
Our Eco Pledge 2020
From the very first day Bird & Blend was born, we wanted to make sure that our products were as eco-friendly as possible and we have consistently been improving this.
At the start of 2020 only two of our packaging items weren't either plastic free, recyclable or biodegradable and we aim to make that 100% by the end of this year (2020).
You can read our update about this below. You may also find the following posts helpful / interesting:
- A full breakdown of the eco credentials of all of our packaging here.
- Our Tea for Trees Project, in partnership with the World Preservation Foundation.
Eco Pledge Update *October 2020*
Although 2020 has been quite a strange year, with many new and unexpected challenges thrown our way we haven't take our eyes off our Eco Pledge & we are proud to give you an update on our progress this year so far.
It is really important to us that we do the research & consider what the best steps are to actually be doing the most good, rather than just being seen to be good. Sometimes a product that has less plastic may end up contributing to higher carbon emissions, which isn't what we want.
It is also important to use that we consider what is best for our customers and quality / safety of our ingredients / supply chain - so being as eco as you can be is often a more complex issue than it may appear on the surface. For full transparency (as usual!) we have noted some of the considerations we have had to carefully discuss in order to take the best steps forward.
Void Fill Machine
We purchased a cardboard shredding machine this year so we now recycle all boxes which flow into our warehouse, shredding them for use as void fill in customer orders and store stock fulfilment.
Considerations: Using our own recycled shred means that the weight of our online postage boxes will have gone up (because a lot of the cardboard we receive our goods in is heavy weight compared to our lighter previous void fill sheets). This will impact our interational shipping weights and therefore potentially cause an increase in carbon emissions.
We already use sea freight wherever we can for goods coming into us but for international customers they aren't going to want to wait 6 weeks for their tea delivery. For this reason we will continue to use air freight. That said, we deliberately use Royal Mail for this service, rather than a courier such as DHL as they use excess capacity on existing planes rather than using their own fleet, which fly regardless of capacity.
We are also considering adding a similar project to our Tea for Trees initiative to offset the carbon from our international postage. Watch this space.
We switched to bio straws a few years back but made the move to paper straws this year as we were aware that the compostable cornstarch straws are often mistaken as plastic and therefore don't make their way to the right facility to be processed.
Considerations: Our drinks are one of our most loved sellers in stores and they showcase our teas so are a big part of our in store experience. Paper straws aren't amazing for the customer as they get soggy over time but we decided that this was worth it for the environmental benefits, we hope you agree!
Cane Fibre Stickers
A personal project of our Ops Manager & Director Matt, he has been chasing an eco friendly switch to biodegradable stickers, both in terms of the end disposal of our products and the sustainability of manufacturing process.
Considerations: Matt considered both sugar cane & paper stickers and went with sugarcane because...
“Sugarcane paper is more eco-friendly to produce than wood-pulp paper. It also biodegrades faster and returns nutrients to the soil. These qualities make it an excellent choice for using to produce compostable packaging and labels. Sugarcane is a renewable eco-friendly source as it reproduces in cycles of less than one year. In comparison, trees for paper production generally take 7 to 10 years to reach maturity. Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. By using sugarcane in place of wood pulp we can lower pollution and preserve forest ecosystems.”
Teas for Trees update
So far we have donated to plant 25,000 tress (as of October 2020)!
For every cup that we use in any drink across our stores, we will be donating 12p to the WPF, and for each donation of 12p it will allow one tree to be planted.
Currently, WPF are planting Mangroves in Madagascar, with another 10% being agroforestry trees (species designed to provide a secure source of food, and benefit local community needs), planted throughout Haiti, Nepal, Indonesia, Mozambique or Madagascar, depending on where they are needed.
Why Mangroves? They provide the best all-round benefit to our environment, as they have one of the highest carbon conversion rates - two to four times greater than mature tropical trees! - and contain the highest carbon density.
They even help to protect coastal erosion, and help to restore the biodiversity for both land and sea, along with protecting offshore reefs!
Ziplock Pouches & Single Serve Envelopes
These two items of packaging have been our big project for nearly 4 years now, with Mike (Founder), Matt (Ops Director) & Paul (External consultant) all actively working towards the aim of switching us to a bio option by the end of this year. It would be fair to say that this has been a much bigger chunk of work than initially expected!
However, we are now in a very positive position with two potential options for this material going through the final round of testing on our machines. One of which we have been working directly with a manufacturer to get produced specifically for us - because after 4 years of testing there just wasn't anything out there that was good enough for us.
What does good enough mean to us? For the perfect material we actually needed something fairly complex. It needed to cover all of the following elements:
- Be food safe & have the necessary barrier properties to keep your teas fresh, as well as adhering to relevant legislation.
- Be strong enough to survive our packing process, including running through machinery, ensuring it doesn't tear easily / get damaged before it gets to the customer
- Be strong and versatile enough to cope with our vast range of ingredients, some of which are powdery, some are spiky, some large, some small, some are oiled etc.
- Biodegrade quickly after use
- For the pouches, it must be able to re-seal again for the customer
- For the single serves it must be easily tearable for the customer.
As you can see some of the above needs are fairly contradictorry ... to have something that is easily tearable but survives the manufacturing and tea packing stages. Having something that keeps a product fresh for 18month shelf life (and doesn't degrade at all) but when it's finished with, decomposes within a year.
So far samples have been rejected because:
“Spiky” teas have punctured the material during packing.
Sealing has been poor and variable.
This would have compromised product quality, the level of damaged packs in store and online and increased wastage as well as reducing “quality” to the end-customer
Plant-based PLA films (home + industrial compostable)
Degradation of the film inside the pouch caused by the tea ingredients.
This could result in minute “flakes” of the inner layer contaminating the tea and/or reduced moisture / oxygen barrier properties during storage
Loss of aroma and colour due to lower barrier properties - in one promising sample, Earl Grey Creme lost ALL its aroma after just 3 months
Plant-based film with very thin metallised layer (home compostable)
This is currently the most promising sample being tested - direct from SPP, Scotland
The very thin metalised layer provides high barrier properties but is still legally classifiable as compostable because it is such a low percentage of the film and leaves so little residue in the soil
It is however 2-3 times the cost of a standard SUP and has not yet been made into SUPs on a commercial scale - although we have quotations to do so.
These are some of the reasons that we decided to work with a manufacturer directly to get this material just right for us. Hopefully, if it is right we will also be able to introduce it to the wider food market to improve packaging credentials for many more companies too.
Considerations: This has been a two stage process ... firstly, source a product that fits the brief from a technical perspective. Next will come further considerations from the commercial side of things.
One of the main considerations will be the cost of this packaging. If it costs us x4 to manufacture, would that extra money actually be better spent in other eco areas, say to protect and rebuild the rainforests?
Founder Mike describes this as the doing good v's being see to be good conundrum and uses the examples of wind turbines or solar panels in homes; People spent a fair amount of money installing solar panels or wind turbines in their homes, but if they invested that same amount into offshore wind farms the actual impact of the environment would be x10... it's just not as feel good / obvious!
A word on compostable v's biodegradable:
Although often used interchangeably there is actually a difference between compostable and biodegradable. In very simple terms biodegradable means that the material will break down within a reasonable time to a particle size small enough to not be harmful to the environment (e.g. animals can consume it, soil/sea isn't damaged by it).
The time period isn't defined but usually refers to a number of years. Compostable means that the material will breakdown naturally when placed in a 'compost' environment e.g. microbes, heat, oxygen etc. which is often considered the ultimate goal for planet-friendly packaging as it breaks down within 90 or so days and leaves no trace at all.
What we are already doing well - Packaging
Tea bags! The big one - our tea bags are 100% plastic-free, 100% natural and 100% compostable. They are derived from a cornstarch-based material called soilon.
All instore consumable packaging (hot cups, sample cups, straws etc.) All fully compostable and made from a plant-based PLA material, derived from cornstarch which is a fully sustainable source, saving almost 80% of the amount of greenhouse gas and using less than half fossil fuel compared to plastic.
Cellophane inners found inside our loose leaf gift tins + 50g gift cartons: These are not plastic! In fact, they are made from a fully compostable renewable wood pulp manufactured entirely in the UK, saving on harmful CO2 emissions to transport them to us!
You can read about the eco credentials of all of our packaging here
What we are already doing well - Recycling
Across all of our stores, our office and warehouses we recycle as much of our waste as we possibly can to reduce the amount going to landfill.
- In 2020 we purchased a cardboard shredding machine, meaning that nearly all of the cardboard that comes into our warehouse is shredded and used to pack your online orders.
- Our stores have dedicated food waste / compost bins where all the tea leaves and compostable cups go into. You can also return your cups here and we will recycle them for you.
- Our stores also send as many of our cardboard boxes / bulk tea bags that their stock deliveries re sent in, back to our warehouses to be re-used up to 4 times (or until they are no longer sturdy enough) to save on waste.
- All of our cardboard is collected to be recycled across all sites leaving a very small amount of general waste - which goes to a local incinerator which turns it into fuel, using the rubbish in place of coal or gas to drive turbines and produce electricity.
- We use the most eco-friendly waste companies in each store location, meaning as little is sent to landfill as posssible.
- We use wood for as much of our shop fits as possible and always have done. As far as practical this is recycled (i.e. most of our staff shelves are recycled). Even new, the eco-impact of using wood as a material is way, way lower than any comparable material. In terms of CO2, wood obviously absorbs the stuff as it grows, then by cutting down the tree and building with it, you effectively store the CO2 in the wood and then plant a new tree to absorb more.
What we are already doing well - Carbon & Energy
We’ve been making efforts recently to reduce this as far as possible as it is so much worse for the environment than the sea. As well as doing it ourselves, we’re working with suppliers to get them to reduce theirs.
In terms of us sending customers orders, we’ve looked into it and sea isn’t practical, BUT we use Royal Mail predominantly who send mail by purchasing spare capacity, i.e. anything we ship goes on a flight that was already flying and had space on it rather than dedicated flights. So it’s not adding to flights, and are making those happening more efficient.
Green Electricity: We use green electricity in all of our stores, warehouse & office units and we offset any flights we have to make for work, to ensure we are doing as much as possible towards reducing carbon emissions.
We encourage (and reward you!) when you support the environment too!
Free drink + 50p off for life with a BB Eco cup
Even though our take away cups are totally plastic-free + fully compostable we encourage you to go one step further and use a 'forever cup'. Our eco-cups not only look cool but are made from eco-friendly, biodegradable bamboo fibre! What’s even better is that when you buy one, you get free tea to take out straight away! After that, you can get 50p off all drinks when you come into the store as a thank you!
Did you know? You can also bring any cup, thermos or vessel of your own and we will give you 50p as a thank you.
Reusable bamboo straws
Even though our straws are totally plastic-free + fully compostable we also sell reusable bamboo straws in all of our stores, which you can pop in your bag and use for your iced drinks. Just like bringing your own cup, if you bring your own reusable straw you also get 10% off your drink.
Bring your tin back in and get a refill at 10% off!
As you know, if you purchase 150g of tea you get your tin thrown in for free at B&B. We hope this will encourage you to bring it back and let us fill it up again for you next time - zero new packagings needed! As a thank you, yup you guessed it, we will give you 10% off your refill!
Did you know? You can also bring any jar, bag, tin or vessel of your own to be filled with tea and we will give you 10% off as a thank you.
But, you don’t just have to fill it with tea, you could do we do at HQ and use it as a pen pot on your desk, you could fill it with your favourite sweets or biscuits, or you could be creative and make a DIY gift, the possibilities are endless!
You can also reuse our matcha tins by filling them with whatever you like! One of our personal favourite ways is to use it to make a tea-infused sleep balm.