Consumerism is at the heart of climate change, the desire for more goods causes increased extraction, processing and transport of raw materials and finished goods across the world which results in atmospheric pollution, carbon emissions, and the waste crisis. Our desire to solve problems through products is potentially one of the biggest roadblocks to achieving a sustainable climate.
As an e-commerce business, Urban Plant Growers is aware of our impact on the environment and are trying to do our best to mitigate our negative impact, and work toward a sustainable business model. Overall, we can breakdown our impact into product, logistics and operations.
Product and procurement
Our products are inherently aimed at reducing food waste, single use plastic and food miles. Through hydroponic growing we are even able to enable people to grow food using 90% less water and fertiliser than conventional agriculture.
However, this does not mean that we are immune from the damages of manufacturing and logistics.
We have a detailed audit checklist which we use to improve product quality each time we manufacture them, leading to low fault rates and fewer wasted products. In the future we aim to improve our product end of life procedures and participate in the circular economy to a greater extent.
Repair, re-use, recycle
In addition to our thorough quality assurance process - we know that electrical products can fail, or reach their end of life – at which point they are often recycled incorrectly, or just thrown away. The loss of valuable materials within those wasted products is a tragedy of economics. Urban Plant Growers tests every faulty product that we receive and use this feedback to improve our future models. In addition, we are often able to fix up and damaged products and use them internally as demonstration units or freebies for our friends and family!
Our investigation and repair desk where Co-Founder, Pete, personally looks at each product that comes in for repair.
Single use plastics
This is one year's worth of our soft plastics, it's being sent off to a local soft plastic recycling centre that will turn it into durable public goods such as park benches!
We have done a huge amount of work to reduce the use of single use plastics within our products. Most products have no single use plastic in them, instead we use cardboard as void fillers to protect the product, and brown paper bags to hold little accessories so that they don't get lost. In our postage to customers, we will only ever include plastic that has been upcycled from supplier parcels to us which we couldn't get without plastic.
All of the single use plastic that we DO produce - gets recycled through soft plastic recyclers.
Our plastic products
Some of our products, such as the Eco Kitchen, Indoor Smart Gardenand the Hydropots contain plastics. While these plastics are meant to be robust to ensure product quality and longevity, we need to ensure that people are reusing their products enough so that they can get the best value out of them. To encourage this, we do everything possible to educate people on how to use the products to their maximum potential, while also working to create a community of DIYers and tinkerers who can help each other do interesting things with their hydroponic kits!
In the future we also hope to move toward using more sustainably sourced wood in our products, by doing so we can lock in some carbon within our products and bring a beautiful element of nature into your homes.
Manufacturing and Logistics
When we first started the business and received stock wrapped in plastic on pallets, I was disgusted. I still own the plastic that we unwrapped some of our initial orders from because I could not bring myself to dispose of it. Since starting we have moved to transporting our products in shipping containers – resulting in us not needing to use any plastic for pallet wrapping or weather protection. We've also partnered with a local company which upcycles soft plastics into durable furniture for public space.
Manufacturing a product in China and transporting it across the ocean in a freight ship is currently the least damaging way of doing international freight – aside from the rare and expensive companies who do freight in wind powered sail boats for niche companies and at an exorbitant cost. The impact of freight reinforces why we need to ensure that we are selling quality products that meet the needs of our customers and are built to last.
On the plus side, we have paid a premium for a warehouse in Marrickville – close to the bulk of our customers, and close to the port of Sydney - resulting in lower freight emissions from us to the end customer. The emissions that we DO emit from postage to our customers are all offset! We sequester the carbon emittted from our postage for 100 years, and plan to double down on this and support more carbon sequestration projects as we grow!
Our team growing fresh food and veggies in our Warehouse in one of our Hydroponic Growth Modules to add to our lunches and take home!
Our main environmental impacts from operation come from the operation of our warehouse, which are minimal. We are fitted out with LEDs that we only use when there is not enough natural sunlight, and we don't have wasteful gas or oil heaters. We have four streams of recycling, including one for soft plastics. Our packaging is either cardboard, paper or compostable biobags.
We are proactive and work as best we can to provide a new life to our waste. Our products are shipped in cardboard cartons which are too big for us to post. We crush these down into a void fill and offer them online to small businesses and artists who often use them to protect products in the mail. Similarly, we provide our cardboard boxes to members of the public - reducing our waste, and reducing the need for someone else to buy a virgin product.
The cardboard boxes that we use for our smaller products are 80% recycled cardboard - and fitted so that they don't need void fill of any sort (plastic or cardboard).
Our microgreen seeds are packaged in 100% upcycled paper packages - a huge departure from the conventions of the seed industry. We are able to do this because we pack our seeds frequently in small amounts rather than once or twice in huge quantities. As a result you are more likely to get good quality seeds with higher germination rates than what you might get in chain stores.
Our liquid nutrients are all in glass bottles, and we're in the process of moving toward aluminum bottles which require less energy to recycle, can be recycled infinitely, and are lighter - therefore requiring less material overall. It's an exciting time for sustainable packaging, and we want to be at the forefront of the movement!
We have also invested in cardboard tape! The machine allows us to seal boxes shut with 100% recyclable tape that eliminates thousands of metres worth of plastic taping!
Often we shred cardboard boxes so they can be used as packaging.
Urban Plant Growers products come delivered with no plastic.
Sustainability is baked into our company and all of our team are completely committed to ensuring that we make a positive impact for the environment. As an e-commerce brand selling physical goods, there is always a level of compromise that must be made - but we believe that if you use your product enough and understand how to do hydroponics correctly, then you should be able to reduce your environmental impact through growing your own food!