Fairtrade fornight and zero waste balloons!

Filed in Blog by on February 22, 2010 24 Comments
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Little miss Green overjoyed to find zero waste balloons for her birthday!

Little miss Green overjoyed to find zero waste balloons for her birthday!

It’s Little Miss Green’s Birthday next month and her Birthday isn’t a Birthday without balloons. Personally I hate the things. To me they are litter or landfill waste at best; an environmental hazard to wildlife at worst.

Even though Little Miss Green is an animal lover and regularly goes litter picking, these things go out of her mind when there is some serious celebrating to be done.

We’ve taken on this zero waste challenge so what am I going to do? It’s the little things and the small rituals that make the biggest difference to kids. For LMG it’s napkins and crackers at Christmas that are the ‘must have’ items. For her Birthday, it’s balloons.
I’m torn between giving her the small details she craves and standing by my zero waste principles. It’s not just the balloons; it’s the packaging too – they always come in some unmarked crinkly plastic packet.

Fortunately, the aptly named “Green Tips”, a subsidiary of Community Foods has clambered on board to bring us great merriment and cheer this March with their biodegradable balloons. It’s the  same fantastic company who bought us the zero waste rubber gloves I was raving about last week.

Like their rubber gloves, the balloons are made from certified FSC fairly traded rubber. After use you just chop them up and add them to the compost heap or leave in the sun to crumble into latex dust. Decomposition of the balloons takes around 6 months.

They also, joy of joys, come in a cardboard box, sans annoying plastic window, which means no nasty packaging to dispose of and at £1.99 for a box of 25 they’re cheap enough to fill the house with.

While we’re on the subject of Fairtrade, you might be aware that this is the first day of FairTrade fortnight; which takes place 22nd Feb – 7 march 2010. The Fairtrade foundation are asking the nation to join in with a swap! They want you to swap as many of your regular purchases as you can for fair trade alternatives over the next two weeks.

A few years ago, fairtrade alternatives were pretty limited to tea, coffee and the odd bar of chocolate. Now you can find everything from fruit to footballs, cakes to cotton and shortbread to shoes.  The Fairtrade foundation want us to pledge 1 million swaps which will prove the people of the UK want producers in the developing world to get a fairer deal.

What about you? Do you have some fairtrade, zero waste favourite products? As we’ve discussed before, finding products that tick all the boxes in terms of low miles, good packaging and our preferences for organic or fairtrade can sometimes be hard to find. Tell us all your juicy swaps and I might just send you a balloon in the post to celebrate!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (24)

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  1. I always buy the fairtrade version of things like bananas, tea and some sugar, also chocolate as much as possible including cocoa and drinking chocolate.

    I also buy the coops fairtrade paper “Cottonbuds”.

    The boys school shirts although from Tesco were also fairtrade cotton.

    I’m afraid that for other items, local or British comes first then organic.

  2. Poppy says:

    Last week J wanted (needed!!!) drinking chocolate and all the ones in Tesco were in plastic ‘jars’. I know that Sainsbury’s do a refill pack in their basic range for a very reasonable 63p for 500g. Sadly, it’s in an unidentified plastic bag with a note on the side, that says not currently recyclable, however … it is Fairtrade 🙂

  3. Ben says:

    I’ve been buying various fair trade products, mostly coffee and sugar, for many years now, but the selection has really expanded and I would be surprised if there were many shops around now that still have no fair trade items in stock. I’m actually finding stuff in my kitchen and around the house that I didn’t realise was fair trade when I bought it.

    My best fair trade zero waste find, which is currently reducing my landfill waste, is traidcraft coffee in the 500g tins. Tins are 100% metal and can go in the scrap metal recycling, with a recyclable aluminium foil seal inside. Cuts down on individual glass jars, their non-recyclable plastic lids and paper-foil-plastic seals.

    Fair trade white sugar is easily found in recyclable paper bags, but the darker ones I sometimes use in cooking tend to be in plastic.

    Cocoa powder I only ever find (fair trade or not) in card tubs with plastic lids. Has anyone found alternatives?

    Chocolate varies. Fair trade is easily found, but sometimes they’re wrapped in plastic, or non-recyclable metallic paper. Divine chocolate is very good however, and it comes in recyclable foil with separate paper wrapping. You can buy small snack bars as well as large ones in this packaging, and for about the same price as not so nice ones in plastic wrappings. I still love wispa bars though, they remind me of the 80s.

  4. Alea says:

    Great find on the balloons!

    I have been trying more and more to switch over to fair trade products in my daily life. I did find cocoa in a health food store that was in a cardboard round with an aluminum lid.

  5. It’s funny you are talking about balloons because just earlier today my mom and I were talking about how when I was in 1st grade our school was releasing balloons. I was very upset about this and refused to do it because it was harmful to animals.

  6. LJayne says:

    Thanks for the heads up about balloons. DS’s birthday is next month and he loves them!

    We made a decision just over a year ago that we weren’t doing enough FairTrade so we switched to buying Fair Trade muesli. DH & the kids get through an enormous amount so this is a biggie for us as it is more expensive. We only buy fairtrade tea and coffee and bananas. I *ought* to only buy fairtrade chocolate – easy enough to get as we have several local Co-op stores. Will get working on that after Lent!

    We buy some fairtrade wine. Loo rolls we buy only recycled so we try and buy these in bulk from Traidcraft but sometimes they are supermarket own-brand recycled.

    Fairtrade sugar is readily available in either Mr Tesco or Mr Sainsbury (can’t remember which) so I try and buy that wherever possible. I have some Tesco fairtrade organic hot chocolate powder in a glass jar but that’s not good for every cooking recipe.

    I would love to switch to fairtrade juice as that’s another thing we consume a lot of and we try and make our purchasing decisions based on the things that we use regularly, but their range really isn’t very good. So we buy supermarket own but do recycle the tetrapaks.

    We have a great fairtrade stall at our church so it is fortunately easy to pick up a jar of jam/honey or bag of raisins. These are supplied by Traidcraft in packs of 6 jars and that’s too much at once or I don’t have the storage. I know other people aren’t so lucky.

  7. magdalena says:

    We buy mostly local produce although some comes from the States at this time of year. I avoid anything from farther out than that. Now, this is easy in southern Ontario, but it was a nightmare in New Brunswick – the small Eastern province we lived in for years. Agriculture has died int hat area, and while some local prodce is available seasonally at farmers’ markets, it is very limited in range. Fair trade is not on the radar there, and the best we could do was Starbucks coffee.Fairtrade goods got hidden in the natural foods section of the supermarket, and were often stale and way overpriced. Canada’s largest coffee house chain, Tim Horton’s, is beginning to set up sustainable coffee co-ops in Central America, to give the growers a fair price, to keep the quality consistent, and to allow young farmers the opportunity to buy their own land. I hope this is more than feel-good promotion, though, and it will become a true fair trade practice.

  8. Nathalie says:

    On the birthday party theme (we have one coming up too…) Anyone know where we can get (for a reasonable price) eco disposable plates and cutlery and stuff?? Ecoezee (the paint tray people) claim to make them but don’t sell them from their site… I’d like them made in the UK if possible…


  9. LJayne says:

    We bought from here for dd2’s baptism. They obviously aren’t very birthday-y but a friend says you can actually wash and reuse the cutlery and the plates are biodegradable in compost

    They aren’t too bad price-wise although you do have to buy quite a number of some of the things, have an explore and find the best combo for you. Some friends of ours were so taken with them that they bought our remaining stock for a party.

  10. Nathalie Marshall says:

    Sorry but here is where?!

  11. LJayne says:

    Sorry! Got distracted by crying child. Link is


  12. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: Hi maisie, you make a good point – we have to decide the order of importance for ourselves; I too like to support local where possible, but it’s good to support Fairtrade too, as you are already doing. I love that there are so many more products available now 🙂

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy; ok, Mrs Green is on the case – we’ll find out what that packaging is …

    @Ben: Hi Ben, thanks for telling us about the coffee tins; they sound excellent. For cocoa powder, I’ve not found anything other in the type of packaging you mention apart from extremely expensive Willie’s chocolate – highlighted on this page: http://mzw.wpengine.com/2008/09/mr-green-makes-a-zero-waste-poo-ding/ It comes in paper and foil.

    @Alea: Hi Alea, do you find many fairtrade alternatives over there? It’s a large market force in the UK now.

    @Lisa @ Retro Housewife Goes Green: Oh noooo, I hate balloon releases with a passion; all the wildlife charities ask you not to do it 🙁

    @LJayne: Hi Lesley, it sounds like you have found lots of fairtrade items too. Happy Birthday for your son next month!

    @magdalena: I find it amazing how things differ across the world. There is a LOT of fairtrade stuff in the UK (£800 million in 2008) I think it’s great that you support local trade however …

    @Nathalie Marshall: Nathalie; have a great celebration. I expect it is the same product range, but you can get eco disposables at little cherry: http://www.littlecherry.co.uk

  13. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    We had a local eco fun day last year and I was horrified that all the children were asked to write a message on a piece of paper and attach it to a balloon and did say so in a rather loud whisper! Apparently they were these Eco balloons though so all was safe 🙂 🙂

  14. Alea says:

    It is pretty easy to find fair trade chocolate and coffee, but it is harder to find other imported fair trade products.

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Phew! You had me writing a letter for a moment, poppy!

  16. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy, I’ve spoken to Mr Sainsbury’s customer careline. I’m told that the refillable fairtrade hot chocolate packets are made from polythene – yay! BUT they are lined with aluminium which makes them non recyclable. Unfortunately these composite materials, where you have two different types bonded together are a recycling nightmare 🙁

  17. Poppy says:

    Thank you Mrs G. It’s another one of those horrible ‘which cause do I support?’ scenarios!

    I had another one yesterday while shopping in Sainsbury’s. They have milk in plastic pouches. Pouches can be recycled at larger branches (which we have), and you’re supposed to buy one of the custom made jugs to go with them. I can’t rememberall the prices now, but there was a deal on if you bought 2 pouches and one jug. One pouch on it’s own was 80p and I suppose you don’t have to have the jugs they are selling. I was in a bit of pre school run hurry, so the maths was too much, but next time I’m in there, I’ll try to work it all out a bit better. I think the cashier said they use 70% less plastic.

  18. LJayne says:

    Poppy, great that they will recycle the pouches. I saw a news article on them last week and it didn’t mention that and I was left scratching my head at swapping a plastic bottle that I can currently recycle for a plastic pouch that I seemingly couldn’t.

    I do find it a bit odd, this move to pouches though. I used to work in a supermarket and things that are a regular shape are SO much easier to store backstage and then to put on the shelves. Irregular things or things that are fluid in shape – like the pouches compared to a bottle, take longer and so are therefore more inefficient from a work point of view.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: I’ve seen the pouches but am concerned about the availability of recycling for them across the UK. At least **most** areas can recycle the hard plastic bottles now, but I would guess very few have access to polythene recycling …

    @LJayne: I agree about the storage thing Lesley! I guess though the overall footprint will be reduced due to less weight. It’s all very confusing isn’t it! I would have thought more pouches might get damaged too, resulting in food waste

  20. This is the typical GREENWASHING that the Balloon Industry is famous for. “It takes only 6 months for our 100% biodegradable balloons to turn to dust! They are 100% safe for the environment.” Not so fast. If a balloon is released and drops to the earth – it takes only a few minutes for a turtle, seabird, or even a whale, to ingest it, or fragments of it, and be fatally harmed. It takes up to 4 years for latex balloons to degrade. Latex balloons are not “organic” on any level – even the dyes are harmful and they are manufactured with a plethora of chemicals, anti-coagulants, nitrates, oils and coloring agents – all toxins. Many hospitals have banned latex balloons at their facilities because they are so toxic and allergenic. Miss Green needs to re-evaluate her “Green” Eco-balloons for a reality-check. Balloons need to be kept indoors at all times. Don’t be victimized by the Balloon Industry’s GREENWASHING – when the only GREEN they are concerned about is the kind you put in your pocket for profit.

  21. Emily says:

    bother, i just bought some of those balloons for my son’s 1st birthday which is not all that far off, and by coincidence then found this blog… perhaps it is greenwashing but if they are kept indoors and composted properly then that only (only?) leaves the nasty dyes and manufacturing process that isn’t so green… hmm is a halfway green product better than a not-green-at all product? this question comes up a lot for me. i think every product that makes you think a little more is a good thing, a step in the right direction. i suppose recycled paper pompoms might be an alternative to balloons, but would still have the nasty dyes. or maybe bunting made from scrap fabric, but then unless you sew by hand and use recycled/reused thread aren’t you also be un-green?! hehe.
    i guess we can only ever do our best, there are probably terribly un-green hidden aspects to even the most green person! support little steps, bring up great discussions like this and raise awareness 🙂

  22. Chris Levey says:

    Did you know that the Helium in ballons is a finite resource. There are some worries that in time we could run out of it and it can not be made from any other gases.

  23. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/3/Help-Stop-Mass-Balloon-Releases/

    THe only eco-friendly balloons are the ones that are released INDOORS, and use NO HELIUM. Latex balloons are toxic to the environment and every wild animal/bird/dolphin/whale that has the misfortune to mistake them for squid, plankton, jellyfish or kelp. DOn’t be “greenwashed”” Sign the petition to stop mass balloon releases.

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Taffy Williams: Thanks for raising awareness Taffy. Just for the record; I am completely against balloon releases…

    @Emily: HI Emily; you’re right that we have to simply do our best and as parents who want our children to be in ‘with the crowd’ too, sometimes we just have to compromise.

    @Chris Levey: I didn’t know that Chris – thanks for sharing 🙂

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