BeeBee Wraps – a beautiful, plastic-free solution to food waste
We are always on the look out for quick easy swaps to reduce our plastic use. So we were delighted to discover BeeBee Wraps. Made from certified organic cotton and beeswax, these colourful wraps are a great alternative to clingfilm. And with an ever-changing selection of beautiful designs, they’ll brighten up your fridge and turn leftovers into exciting parcels. We recently spoke to the founder of BeeBee Wraps, Kath Austin.
Hi Kath! We love using BeeBee Wraps in the kitchen. When you use the wraps at home, what do you use them for?
Everything! I always use them for cheese. If I walk into Cambridge cheese shop, which was one of our first stockists, I can take my cheese home in a BeeBee Wrap. They’re also great for bread, herbs and salad, half an avocado, the end of a cucumber, strawberries, tomatoes, leftovers in a ramekin… If you wrap sandwiches in one, you have a robust plate to eat them off. Or, make a BeeBee Wrap into a little pouch* and you can take nuts, trail mix and chocolate out in it. I could keep going!
What was the inspiration behind BeeBee Wraps?
It really started when my first daughter was born. When you have a baby, you start thinking differently about the world and particularly food. You have this amazing little person and you want to feed them well and do the best for them. I started thinking about the kind of world I wanted to bring her up in. At the same time I started experimenting making sourdough. When you make your own bread, you have no packaging, but you do need to preserve it well.
So I asked the question ‘What did we do before plastic?’ Plastic was invented in 1907 – it’s only been around for 100 years. After lot of research, I found that people used to use waxed paper and waxed cotton. In fact, I realised a lot of people around the world were making beeswax wraps in their kitchens. So I had a go.
Friends who came round thought they were great but I sat on the idea for a long time before doing anything. Then I spent 18 months perfecting the wraps. Before we set up our website, I put them on Etsy and they flew out the door. The demand was already there.
How has being an ethical company affected how you run the business?
When I first had the idea, I had no aspiration to run a business. But a key moment was when I realised we were a social venture: we have this altruistic aim to reduce plastic and save on food waste. I joined Cambridge Social Ventures and went on their Social Venture weekend. That was brilliant, it gave me enormous confidence that I was on to something worthwhile. And then I was accepted onto their year-long mentorship programme. They helped me see that if I wanted this to have the impact I was hoping for, I needed to scale.
Part of our mission is to get people thinking differently.
Over the last year, we’ve been working really hard to develop our production team, the way that we make BeeBee Wraps, and our supply chain. Suddenly everything shifted from this cottage-industry, kitchen-table start up to ‘this is real!’ Now we have premises, and we’ve just completed a project with Cambridge Consultants to redesign our production process: the wraps are still handmade but the process is now much more energy efficient. We do aim to be a profit-making business but the overarching aim is to reduce plastic pollution. It’s a fine balance.
I noticed you pay all your staff a living wage. Is that important to you?
I’ve worked a lot of jobs and I’ve been an employee more than I’ve been an employer. I know what it’s like to be on the end of a wage that isn’t great. It’s not a life. The team around me are BeeBee Wraps. If they decided not to come to work, there would be no BeeBee Wraps. Paying a living wage has a financial impact on our business but it’s important to me that everybody is treated in a fair and equal way.
Are there any other challenges you’ve experienced as a result of staying true to those original principles?
Yes! There’s one huge aspect of our business in particular. We made a commitment, right from the beginning, to use only sustainable fabrics. We only use organic cotton that is Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) certified: the production of the fabric doesn’t use GMO, pesticides, man-made fertilisers; the people working on the cotton farms are given a fair wage and have safe working environments.
But it comes at a cost. The fabric that we buy is a lot more expensive than standard cotton. However, if we’re producing a sustainable product that is solving a problem, we shouldn’t create a problem somewhere else.
Your designs are beautiful and they change regularly. Do you get involved in the design of the fabric?
We now source our fabric direct from India and, for the first time, we’ve designed our own fabrics with our logo on them. I designed them collaboratively with our designer Karen Jinks. I did not want this product to be boring: I want the fabric to be colourful and a splash of excitement in my fridge. And we’ve designed these BeeBee Wraps with that in mind. It’s a lovely part of the business, being able to still be creative.
Aside from setting up BeeBee Wraps, are there other changes that you have made as a result of becoming more engaged in plastic free living?
There were lots of things I did initially, like getting milk delivered in bottles, using reusable nappies, shopping more locally. But when you start looking into it, you realise it’s so much more than plastic. It’s consumption. Do we need to constantly consume? Do we need to use things in a way that’s unsustainable?
Plastic is on everyone’s minds now, but actually, I think the next big thing is clothing. We live in a fast fashion culture which is bad for everyone in the chain, except the people who profit. I made a commitment about 18 months ago not to buy any more new clothes unless they tick off as many of my criteria as possible: Do I need it? Can you see the supply chain? Does it have any accreditation to confirm that? Is it made of natural fibres? Can I buy it second-hand? Amazingly, when I made the commitment to stop buying so much, the amount of money I spent that year on clothes overall went down, even though I spent more on each item that I did buy.
This might feel a long way from talking about BeeBee Wraps but part of our mission is to get people thinking differently. Using BeeBee Wraps is a way to encourage people to use less plastic. Once you’ve got that one area sorted, you see the wrap every day and it starts you thinking about other things.
The whole sustainable industry is on fire and booming at the moment.
What other ethical brands do you find inspiring?
I can think of lots! ‘Thrift+’ is a way of recycling clothes that you don’t want, benefiting charity and getting something back for yourself at the same time. They send a box to your house and you put your good-quality old clothes in it. The box goes back to Thrift+ and they sell the clothes on their website. You get a credit you can spend on their website and 50% of the profits go to a charity which you choose.
Then there’s the clothing company ‘Where does it come from?’. Every single item has a code on the label which you can use to trace it right back to source.
And the ethical marketplace Mamoq won’t let anyone sell on the site unless they meet their 12-point criteria. If you want to shop for items made ethically across the whole supply chain, that’s the place to go. And that’s just the fashion industry! Before I even get started on all sorts of people setting up bulk buy, zero waste shops. The whole sustainable industry is on fire and booming at the moment.
*Check out the instructions for making a pouch out of your wraps on the BeeBee Wraps Instagram.