Running a small business can sometimes feel like you’re just solving problems all day long. Not gonna lie, it can be a lot to deal with when it feels like it’s coming at you all at once. To try to maintain my sanity, I have a few favorite mantras I try to return to when I come up against challenges, one of which is the problem is the solution.
What is our problem? We get a LOT of cardboard. Almost everything we purchase comes in a cardboard box. It’s one area in the shop I’ve always struggled to make more sustainable. It’s been nagging at me for ages.
We recycle our cardboard, and that’s “good”, right? Recycling, no doubt, needs to be a part of our transformation to a more sustainable future, but the current recycling systems requires transportation (oil), labor, time, and money just to have much of it end up in landfills. (What Happens To Vermont's Recycling?)
And honestly, dealing with recycling is just plain a pain. We have to bring all our cardboard into the basement, break it down, and shove it into another box to create a cardboard filled mega-box. Invevitably, they stack up, teeter and totter, and before you know it, it erupts into a shaky cardboard mountain.
We need the staff, time, vehicle, and cash to take it to the local drop off. The list of other very much more important to-do items is long, and hauling the cardboard upstairs, finding a sketchy place to park, loading it in, and taking it down to the transfer center, and unloading it, is not what I want to have to think about!
The problem: We have a lot of cardboard. I don’t want to deal with recycling it, and I have serious doubts about it truly being recycling in a wasteful and inefficient system.
Facing a challenge, I go to the mantra: The problem is the solution.
How can a problem be a solution? We imagine how to transform the cardboard from waste to an asset/resource.
Being an enthusiastic composter, I know that cardboard is great for sheet mulching and adding carbon to your compost pile. I’ve heard tell of farms round here that’ll take your cardboard for cow bedding, but, that is still a lot of prep and a lot of transportation. It didn’t really solve the problem. But, I loved that it would be out of the waste system, would be reused, and would end up helping regenerate soil.
Then, I thought, “well, if that’s our only option, and we’re going to do all that prep work anyways, how can we use the tape-free cardboard as a resource for the shop?”. An instant later, if I might say so myself, a stroke of GENIUS hit me. What if we shredded it and used it for packing material?
I was enthusiastic about the idea! I knew that not only would it solve our cardboard problem, but it solved SO MANY problems! Oh, did I have fun investigating all the shredder options that evening!
I trusted my gut and we invested in a heavier duty shredder than can handle corrugated cardboard…we have since torn through and shredded the heck out of mega-box mountain! We’ve created 240 gallons (38.5 cubic feet) of upcycled clean, compostable, recyclable, shredded cardboard. That’s eight 30-gallon trash cans!
I wanted to do some test runs to make sure this new potential packaging would cushion all our precious cargo. Test results have been a success! We’re taking the plunge, using up the rest of our compostable peanuts, and will be shipping with our upcycled cardboard packing material imminently!
By transforming the cardboard from being a source of waste that rippled into many PROBLEMS into an ASSET, we solved an array of issues that makes our systems more efficient. We save time and money! That’s always helpful when running a small business! We started with sustainability, and we ended with efficiency.
Thinking about the problem as the solution and transforming what seems like a waste product into a resource is vital for this small business that seeks to make an impact and disrupt business as usual. Small businesses have an opportunity to make a big impact, and so do you.
What problem is your solution?
We look forward to shipping you our goodies in our new shredded cardboard packaging!