Zach Pillinger, director of Bude-based Upstream Printing, believes the garment decoration industry could be doing more to help the environment and, in turn, the planet. Here, he explores how you can make a difference – and it’s easier than you might think.
As individuals, and certainly as an industry, we are under unprecedented pressure to make radical reforms to the impact that we are having on our planet.
The textile industry collectively is responsible for more than 20% of all carbon emissions in the world and discharges a staggering amount of toxic waste water. Consumers are demanding that manufacturers and suppliers start taking responsibility for their actions.
Although this may seem daunting to many and to others it may appear the changes individually we can make will have little impact when the giant emerging nations such as China and India are doing little to contribute. However the wave of change is upon us and eventually we will all be forced to think about every process in our own businesses and how we can reduce our burden on the environment.
The choice is ours and it is one that we need to address now. We can claim ignorance and wait to be forced to make changes or we can start making small changes now and turn positive changes into a strong sales angle.
Where to start?
So, where to start? The phrases ‘circular economy’ and ‘fast fashion’ are big buzz words right now and if you’re not familiar with them then you certainly should be. We all need to be thinking about a product’s life cycle from the beginning; can it be easily recycled? Can it be easily reused? Or does it have a short life span and end up rotting in landfill for the next thousand years? Are the products that you are producing the result of short lived fashion trends which are to be worn once and then disposed of or rendered useless?
Whatever it is that your business produces when thinking about the small changes that can be made to reduce your impact on the planet one eye should be on the bigger picture of what you are trying to develop or produce as a business, because if it is a disposable fashion or promotional product then eventually the tide will turn on the marketability of that product.
But if you can change the way that product is viewed or manufactured now then you may find yourself ahead of the pack with endless sales and marketing doors open to you where they will be closing to others around.
Make the change
We can all start to make changes in our own businesses and even the smallest changes are worth celebrating and promoting to your customers because it will all be well received.
The easiest place to start with making small positive changes is around the office. Are you using reusable cups within the office for tea and coffee? If not why don’t you get some made and branded for your own use (maybe you can do this yourself in-house) take a picture and put it on social media at the same time to highlight your positive approach to reducing waste. Are you using a water fountain? A great initiative to reduce bottled water but not so good if you are using single use plastic cups! Assign everyone with their own reusable water canteen or ceramic mug and ditch the disposables. These seem like such small changes to make but it will make your office a much more circular environment that you can be proud of.
Let’s talk recycling. Are you recycling old ink cartridges to the recycle stations found at most super markets and office supply companies? This is a very simple act that eliminates landfill waste. Do you have separate bins in the office for non-recyclable waste and one for your recyclables; paper/ card/ plastic? Recycling your general office and workshop waste is such a cheap and easy process to implement, get a couple of bins and put a simple label on each bin. Yet another great social media post for your customers to see that you do care about the impact that you have on our planet.
The workshop space
Moving into the workshop space almost every process can be scrutinised and improved on a much wider scale but to start with let’s take a look at the simple improvements that can be made.
Modern recycling methods have increased the products that can now be recycled and these can often be materials that we do not realise can be recycled. Acetates for producing screen printing films are used in huge numbers across the industry and although not recyclable at every recycling plant these can indeed be recycled. Check with your waste provider or local council, collect them up in bulk and make the effort to ensure these are recycled and do not go to landfill.
A little extra effort from all of us can make a difference on a national and international scale. We just need to do our homework and put in a little extra effort.
Our biggest bug bear here at Upstream HQ is the individual poly bag! Surely this has got to be at the top of all consumers’ annoyance lists!
Do we really need them? If you are a manufacturer and individually bagging products is this really necessary? They will usually have to go through an industrial finishing process before they can to the consumer where the chances of getting dirty are surely higher than in a properly packed box.
Likewise if you are individually bagging garments post production, do your customers really need this? Is it essential for the safe transportation of the finished product or could you think of a better way using cardboard or similar to package your products in? Sometimes it’s easier to just say ‘well that’s how we have always done it’ but why not think outside the box and try to break the single use plastic cycle by thinking of your own solution? You never know it may be the best sales decision you have ever made!
Those are two of the simplest decisions to make in reducing single use plastics but the next biggest area is recycling products. Are you buying in new packaging materials just to repack products for a better appearance to your customer? I’m sure if consumers knew you had reused an old box to save producing a new one they would be more than happy and most probably enjoy the cost saving you could pass onto them for the privilege, so tape up those old boxes, put some nice self-adhesive paper logos on with a note explaining your decision to reuse and see how your customers respond. The worst offenders repackage products in new cardboard boxes that cannot even be reused, there is no excuse for this in our eyes.
The same goes for general consumables in the workshop such as packaging tape and package fillers. Recyclable tapes are now widely available and not only look great but can also be recycled with the boxes that they seal. The same goes for packaging fillers; maize pellets are a simple replacement for non-recyclable fillers and dissolve with water.
Get on board
Aside from the plastic and reuse side we would encourage you to bring more finishing processes in house, if you are already an embroiderer then why not bring in a DTG printer and vice versa. You can cut the use of couriers between processes, reduce lead times and provide an enhanced service to your customers while reducing your carbon footprint. You could even calculate how much carbon you have saved in a year by reducing the amount of miles products have travelled before they reach your customers and again use it as a marketing tool.
We have all got to get on board with the changes in the wider world and what our consumers are demanding. Some of us will be dragged kicking and screaming into a lower impact world and some of us will embrace the positive changes that are available to us and stay on top of the tough challenges in business to come.
I for one have a feeling which side might just end up doing ok and they might just find themselves feeling pretty good about it at the same time.