Opinion: The Only Way Is Ethics

Publisher and science communication expert, Sai Pathmanathan, founder of The Taste Buds who shares not only her opinion on the environment’s destruction but what can be done to help.

Recently there was an email from the Greeting Card Association, about the British Veterinary Association’s #BreedToBreathe campaign. The BVA is requesting that anyone using images of brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced eg pugs, French bulldogs and Persian cats) in marketing and advertising, to stop. As someone who has worked with vets on raising awareness of certain popular dog breeds and their health issues, I started to think about the ethics of creating and selling products because they’re popular, regardless of the wider issues. Or regardless of how it all sits with our own beliefs, opinions and feelings.

The Phloem card that Sai sent to David Attenborough.
The Phloem card that Sai sent to David Attenborough.

We’ve actually recently changed things at The Taste Buds, and here’s a little background as to why, and what we’ve done:

Last year was all about sending cards and letters to some of my heroes. That is, people who had made an impact, inspired or opened doors for me, in some way or another. It was a little early for Thinking of You Week, so I didn’t publicise this. And I certainly didn’t expect any replies. So naturally, I was pleasantly surprised (stunned!) to receive a rather lovely letter from Sir David Attenborough. Utterly sweet, considering I sent him a silly ‘Phloem’ card from our ‘Punderstanding Life’ range.

Sai was delighted to receive a personal letter from David Attenborough.
Sai was delighted to receive a personal letter from David Attenborough.

If it wasn’t for Sir David and his programmes, I probably wouldn’t be in science communication right now. And I definitely wouldn’t have been as excited as I was to visit the Galapagos Islands last year, right before my first PG Live. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend such an inspirational jaunt directly before a trade show!).

The trip had a profound effect on me, mainly because I was travelling with staff from the Galapagos Conservation Trust. We visited young people’s environmental science and conservation projects, to see the work done to alleviate the problems of plastic waste in the oceans. Anyone who watched Blue Planet II, will already know where I’m going with all this. I always felt that I was extremely good at reusing and recycling, but the thought of just how much plastic we’re wasting, blew my mind.

Sai in the Galapagos with a marine iguana.
Sai in the Galapagos with a marine iguana.

For example, we produce 300 million tonnes of plastic a year, globally. That’s equal to 25 million double-decker buses! Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just gets smaller, becoming known as microplastics. Like itty bits of glitter. Marine creatures consume these microplastics, meaning it could all end up in the food chain, or worse yet: our drinking water. There’s also the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of floating plastic, off the coast of California. Here plastic pieces outnumber sea life six to one.

I realise that much of the single-use plastic waste comes from the food industry, but they’re fast changing. Having been to the Coffee Shop Expo and Food Matters Live last year, I’ve seen the changes food establishments are making. Vegware and bamboo reusable cups are popping up in local coffee shops, and biodegradable-antimicrobial packaging is the next new thing! And just look at what Pret and Iceland are doing.

With extra help from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (Note: anyone reading this can apply for one of their Travel Fellowships), I’ve set up a little ongoing project called Plastic = Not Fantastic! Working with schools, families, educators and communities we’re looking at alternatives to plastics and how to reduce, recycle and reuse more.

Part of the Plastic = Not Fantastic information.
Part of the Plastic = Not Fantastic information.
One of The Taste Buds cards that have been printed on 100% recycled boards.
One of The Taste Buds cards that have been printed on 100% recycled boards.

Changing the way we do things in educational outreach is one thing, but what about how we print and present our greeting cards? I wanted everything to be as environmentally-friendly as possible right from the start, but it felt impossible. ‘Nope, retailers and customers all want plastic cellobags. Recycled board is too expensive and doesn’t look good. You need to make those characters blue and pink so you can sell them separately as boy and girl cards.’ (Yep, my colleagues at Let Toys Be Toys wouldn’t let me live that last one down if I listened to that piece of advice).

Many of us teeny publishers may still be very new, but surely we should be encouraged to carry out our work in a way that we feel comfortable? If Woodmansterne can have beautiful cards printed with vegetable inks, ArtEco cards can use great quality compostable packaging and G.F. Smith can produce such gorgeous ‘Extract’ papers from recycled coffee cups…then why can’t we do something just as marvellous for the environment too? Why yes, yes we can.

The Taste Buds’ new logo which signals the card has been printed with veg ink.
The Taste Buds’ new logo which signals the card has been printed with veg ink.

We didn’t really have a choice with the way our cards were printed at the start (long story!), but now after a little bit of research, and speaking to many wonderfully helpful people, we’ve finally worked out how to do things in our own happy way.

All of our card ranges will now be printed with vegetable inks (which makes sense since we’re ‘The TASTE Buds’) onto 100% recycled boards, accompanied by recycled envelopes…and should a cellobag be required, they’ll be biodegradable. Still the same ridiculous humour on the design-side though.

Finally, you’ll love our new little icon to represent these changes…slapped on the back of every card. We really carrot wait for you to see our environmentally-lush cards in the flesh.

* This piece was recently published as a blog on The Taste Buds’ website. www.the-taste-buds.co.uk/blog

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