The start of this story will feel familiar to a lot people.
We are a family of four. A husband, a wife and two very young children. Between us, partly due to our own lack of research and assumed hectic lifestyles and partly due to the supermarket-style of shopping that's common in the UK, we made a lot of waste. Looking back, it sort of felt normal. It was easy to justify the behaviour.
When our son was born it opened our eyes to a whole new world of waste. And then an off-the-cuff comment by a local hairdresser, after a conversation about the quantity of newborn nappies, that we could "ask the council for a second bin for our house" became the catalyst for a watershed moment. Having an extra person in the house wasn't an excuse to suddenly neglect waste. We didn't need a second bin, we needed to be putting less into the one we had. It's obvious, right? When you actually slow down and take stock of the packaging, the rubbish, the waste and the excess... it's right there in front of you. And then you can't stop seeing it.
At the time I was working for a Swiss chocolate factory, overseeing the innovation of own-label new products into major UK supermarkets. On the one hand I was in the right position to make a real difference to packaging design - to simplify the product, make it more recyclable and reduce packaging - and yet the volumes were so vast and the demands of the supermarkets so smothering that there was little I could realistically achieve. And it really bothered me. That's not to say that the supermarkets aren't aware of the problem, but they, and their entire supply chain, are so slow to change and reluctant to accept any fluctuation in price that sustainability and the right product rarely converge. I moved on.
At home, where the change was very much in our hands, we made good progress. Reusable nappies, homemade bread, glass milk bottle deliveries, shopping locally for in-season fresh fruit and veg, creating a meal plan so that food or ingredients didn't go to waste, refillable cleaning products, shampoo bars and soaps and bamboo toothbrushes to name a few. Our waste bin now looked much more pleasing and we were emptying bins so infrequently (because they weren't filling) that they started to smell, which felt like a strangely satisfying problem to encounter. Our recycling was also reducing. All of these changes were simple and achievable and, perhaps more importantly to a young family, didn't add cost. It didn't feel like we'd overhauled the way our house functioned, but that these contributions slotted neatly into how we behave as a family and positively influenced our routines.
I think it's right to add in here that we are not a perfect household and nor are we trying to be. We've made changes within our means and in keeping with our unique lifestyles. It means that our decisions are more considered and we think harder about justifying purchases or things we want to do. In my opinion, if you contemplate everything too deeply - be that the manufacturing process, the packaging, the supply chain and delivery, the footprint or the onward waste or recycling journey - then it would be all-consuming. For some people that's a way of life that suits them well and for others (us included) it is perhaps healthier to look at what changes are the most attainable for both the environment and your own state of mind. Probably the simplest consideration is to think about excess and over-consumption (just because a supermarket has a buy-one-get-one-free offer doesn't mean you need to take it), what is a necessity and whether your life would actually be better with or without a particular item. If you can live happily without it then you probably don't need to buy it. Something might seem like a great idea to buy at the time, but when you have finished using it, what will happen to it?
And yet every two weeks, when the recycling was put out for collection, there remained, steadfast and reluctant, one item that was a persistent thorn in the side of our efforts - the humble, single-use yoghurt pot. Sure, collect some for crafts and fun for the kids, but there are only so many things you can make. We didn't just want another 'gadget', something used erratically but largely resigned to the back of the cupboard and we didn't want another machine that needed to be plugged in or contained parts that would break. It's a pet hate of mine that too many things we buy now are not built to last, arrive already broken and are too easy to throw away and buy again. There are so many 'toys', gadgets and stuff, all requiring cables, chargers, buttons, parts or firmware updates that so quickly become out-of-date, surpassed by a better model and resigned to waste.
We stumbled across some information about YogurtNests. It seemed to suit our needs and we really liked the ethos of the brand. At the very least we'd be supporting a story that promotes sustainable principles, helps with conservation projects through the 1% For The Planet initiative and is handmade using environmentally appropriate materials. No plugs or cables, just a nice looking bag. Our Sortelha YogurtNest arrived and straight away it had a really positive impact. No longer did we need to buy plastic yoghurt pots, the process of setting up our homemade yoghurt was quick so it didn't feel like a hassle and the YogurtNest casually sat on display in the house when not in use. We told some friends about it and after a couple of months I called the team in Portugal to chat about promoting the YogurtNest to a wider audience in the UK. I have a lot of respect for Miguel and Ana, and how they have gone about promoting the benefits of using their product - choosing to promote the health and environmental advantages rather than simply chasing a dream of riches. I get it. We chatted for a long time and over a few weeks pulled together a plan for giving YogurtNest a home in the UK. And here we are. YogurtNest UK has its own base, its own team, its own 'facility' (a nicely converted garage with tidy new racking!) and is developing its own following.
It has been heartwarming to see this project gather momentum. To get feedback from excited customers and new members of our UK tribe. Each YogurtNest that we send out is another nudge in the right direction for a new household and we embrace the opportunity to support them on their journey as well.