At BLANC we have been losing sleep about plastic pollution for years. The business was founded out of horror at realising how toxic and damaging to the environment and health conventional dry cleaning is. So it’s natural that we are driven to do everything we can to limit damage to our planet and its inhabitants.
However, the specific topic of plastic management has been a huge challenge as for a business of our size, plastic-free alternatives to our plastic packaging were often incredibly expensive, inaccessible, or even impossible to source. It’s easy to be disheartened - given the scale of the problem - that suppliers of recyclable, reusable materials are not flourishing.
With this in mind, we want to share and document our sustainability journey, to let you know how BLANC is developing and continuing to put the environment at the heart of all we do. We also hope that this helps to inspire our community to tolerate less plastic and packaging from businesses and be more mindful of what is used.
Alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Facts & Figures
- The average plastic bag won't disappear for up to 1,000 years.
- A vast amount of plastic waste doesn't get reused or recycled, it lingers in nature, polluting our earth and oceans.
- Up to 12m tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year - including tiny bits of plastic from straws, bathroom products and tyres.
1. Re-imagining dry cleaning packaging
Why do we need packaging?
While packaging looks sometimes pointless and doesn’t add any benefit, as a cleaning business, some form of packaging is essential to us. These bags help keep the freshly-cleaned clothes dry and stain-free from the moment they leave our Atelier until they get delivered to our customers.
However, plastic covers have a high environmental impact considering that even if they are technically recyclable, they can’t be recycled at home in the UK, and need to be taken to a carrier bag collection point. This is why, within the last few years, we have led the way in reducing the use of single-use packaging - with a specific focus on eliminating single-use plastic - within the dry cleaning industry.
Reuse, reuse and reuse again!
In 2016, we introduced our own reusable laundry bags to encourage customers to send their garments to us in these reusable bags, thus reducing the need for plastic bags. Since then, we have continuously encouraged our customers to reuse or return all the packaging elements used with their orders, from hangers to clips. Our drivers can collect them from their home directly when picking up or delivering orders.
Introducing Compostable Packaging
After years of research and development, we have finally found a 100% compostable alternative to the plastic polyrolls used to protect the clothes after cleaning: our new bags are made from potato starch and have the same protective qualities as the original plastic bag, just with a much lower environmental impact.
These bags are officially certified “Home Compostable”: it takes between 9-12 months to compost at home, depending on the conditions, and if it is taken by your local council it can take 3-6 months.
You can simply put the bag in your compost bin for home composting (our shirt bags are actually the perfect size to use as food bin liners!) or in the compost bin provided by your local council. If you don’t have a compost bin or a compost scheme in your area, you can give the covers back to our drivers when they deliver your clothes or discard them in your normal bin - they will decompose a lot quicker than plastic film.
Getting rid of single-use plastic in our Atelier Operations
Our most recent achievement to fight plastic pollution was to completely get rid of single-use plastic in our Atelier Operations. For example, anything that is needed for folding a shirt, such as neck strips, shirt stuffers and clips has been replaced with non-plastic alternatives.
All of this has increased our costs significantly, something which we have been determined not to pass on to the customer. Because part of our mission is to make natural cleaning convenient and accessible to everyone, we made the decision to absorb this cost and hope to inspire other companies to follow our path.
2. The hidden plastic: tackling microplastic pollution
There is, however, another type of plastic that plagues the waterways: microplastics. According to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, around half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres a year contribute to ocean pollution. In short, these fibres shed off synthetic garments every time they are washed and pollute the oceans and waterways.
To tackle this issue in our Atelier, we are currently testing an industrial microplastic filter, in order to catch these fibres before they get washed away and thus reduce plastic pollution. We have installed a commercial filter to one of our washing machines and have started a trialling phase here, which consists of comparing the quantity of fibres in wastewater when using the filter vs without the filter. We will have more information to communicate about this development very shortly!
3. Single-use plastic in the workplace
The BLANC employees also take great pride in keeping single-use plastic out of the workplace where possible. Our People team regularly trains all employees on the waste hierarchy and how to recycle properly, which is not only applicable at work but also at home. For years, we have implemented some simple initiatives: for example, we don’t use any bottled water (we have water dispensers to ensure that it is always easy to fill up and stay hydrated), plastic cutlery or single-use cups.
4. The challenge continues: what's next?
What’s next? While we are very proud of those achievements and very confident they have a positive impact, we keep in mind our mission to leave behind a better planet is a journey and will continue to challenge ourselves and lead the change within the cleaning sector. With new information regarding plastic pollution continuing to come to light, we feel a duty to stay informed and reactive. We will monitor our progress against plastic use targets, whilst continuing to learn and provide training on plastic pollution.
One way we are continuing to minimise our carbon footprint is to choose local packaging suppliers where possible as working with local, quality suppliers has multiple environmental and economical benefits. The next step for us to monitor our progress on our packaging is to calculate our carbon footprint: this will give us quantifiable data on how we need to improve and grow as a business, which is incredibly important to BLANC!
Finally, we would love to work with our suppliers to reduce packaging further and introduce refill schemes. With supermarkets and zero waste stores leading the charge on this front, we strongly believe this is the direction in which our lifestyles are heading - and not just within the cleaning industry, but in an array of other sectors too.
This topic means the world to us, and we would be so grateful for our community’s help. We know the power of crowds of smart people thinking together to solve problems for each other. So if you have any ideas on how we can continue and develop on our journey, please let us know via the form below!
Would you mind taking a minute to help us out?