It’s Waste Reduction Week in Canada, and to celebrate, I spoke to some superstar companies reducing waste through product design that are featured in the National Zero Waste Council’s Design Portfolio. For the first article in this three-part series, I spoke to Abeego founder Toni Desrosiers about her company’s reusable beeswax wraps.
“The future is not a plastic world,” she told me over the phone. “I think we’re waking up to the decisions we make and the impact those decisions have on the world.”
Desrosiers was the first to design food wraps from the perspective of a peel when she invented Abeego beeswax wraps in 2008. In nature, peels are opaque but breathable to allow air, light and moisture through.
“But in the ‘50s we started to wrap, lock and seal our fresh living food in airtight transparent film and containers,” she explained. “As a result, we essentially started to suffocate and rot our food, which has contributed dramatically to the billions of dollars in food waste that occurs in North America every year.”
By working similarly to a lemon peel, Abeego’s food wraps can “keep food alive” much longer. Desrosiers used the example of an avocado, which when wrapped in Abeego can last as long as 18 days in the fridge – you just have to cut off the oxidized layer to reveal the fresh fruit.
“Food needs to be put back in our hands,” Desrosiers said. “The way that we understand food today has all been through this lens of airtight food wrap, and so at a deep level, we don’t really understand it. We’ve allowed people to tell us things like ‘your lemon can last ten days,’ or ‘your bread will last three days.’ Those kinds of comments don’t bring attention to the fact that food is alive and nobody can tell you how long it's going to live. It all depends on the conditions it was grown in, the conditions it was stored in.”
While the product’s biggest impact is in food waste reduction, it also effectively reduces plastic waste by acting as a replacement for disposable plastic wraps. It is also produced in a “near zero-waste” facility in Victoria, British Columbia.
Abeego takes a few different approaches to minimize waste from production as much as possible. Fabric is woven to specific widths to reduce the amount of off-cut material and the product sizes are designed to optimize each yard of fabric. Excess wax material is bound into what they affectionately call ‘Abeego Twists,’ which they use for marketing at events or as gifts with purchases. To allow the longest use possible, they strongly recommend that customers wash Abeego wraps in cold water. Afterwards, they can be composted, since they’re made of all natural materials.
“Beeswax is so valuable,” Desrosiers said. “We want to make sure we’re getting every last bit of life out of it.”
“We’re honoured to be part of an organization that’s bringing awareness to companies that are doing good,” she added about the National Zero Waste Council’s Design Portfolio. “So frequently we’re focused on all of the terrible things that are happening in the world, and I think that when we focus on good, we’re inspired to do more good ourselves. It’s nice to be part of a company that can inspire people to think differently.”
The Design Portfolio is a celebratory one – while there is an application process, it is not certification-focused. It highlights products (although companies are featured as a result) that are evaluated based on three (simplified) stages of their lifecycle: pre-, during and post-use. The Portfolio also has a substantive set of design principles vetted by external professionals to guide a way forward towards design that prevents and/or reduces waste. These factors keep the Portfolio easy to understand and offer direction to designers and companies aiming to deliver on waste prevention and reduction.
Interested businesses with at least one exemplary product or packaging are encouraged to apply.