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Sustainability at Abilitee #EarthDay 2020

by Saba Kamaras |

By Saba Kamaras
Chief Operating Officer at Abilitee Adaptive Wear
Abilitee CEO Saba Karamas

Saba spent 8 years working in fashion design in NYC before earning her MBA from Texas McCombs at UT Austin. After learning about adaptive clothing needs from her niece, Eva, she found out about Abilitee and wanted to come on board! In her spare time, she likes gardening, baking, and exploring ghost towns. 

Over the last ten years, I’ve seen more and more brands jump into the conversation about building a sustainable and eco-friendly business. In honor of Earth Day, I’ll share Abilitee’s sustainable practices, as well as some of the challenges we face making eco-friendly products. To start, we tackled most of the low hanging fruit: composting, recycling, and minimizing paper use. Despite higher costs, we source organic and recycled products and materials when possible. As more people purchase responsibly, we hope the options will also become more affordable. But for Abilitee, it’s worth the hit to our profits to buy items we can be transparent about. 

On that note, let’s be more transparent! 

Thanks to Ecoenclose, our shipping label paper is 100% recyclable. In addition, we are proud to use poly bags and mailers from recycled plastic. However, once an item gets to a customer, do they know how to recycle it properly? Throwing the plastic mailer into the curbside recycling bin will likely clog local facilities. The correct way to recycle mailers in most locations is to recycle them free of nonrecyclable label stickers along with plastic bags that you can often drop off at the grocery store. Simple, right? Honestly, how many of us will do that? We plan to include cards explaining how to recycle our packaging in the future - but until everyone can easily and conveniently recycle such items, recycled and recyclable packaging doesn’t go far enough to close the loop of this product cycle.

To make significant improvements in sustainability, we must address the most impactful drivers of change. A primary driver of sustainability is reduced consumption, which runs contrary to most business models. Another is designing for a cradle to cradle system, instead of cradle to grave. Cradle to cradle means creating a product that turns into an equal or better product at the end of its life cycle instead of ending up in a landfill. What’s difficult is that most products, ours included, aren’t easily redesigned to follow that cycle.

At Abilitee, we strive to strike a balance between sustainability and function. Take, for example, our feeding tube and cath pads. These can replace single-use items like gauze and tape around g-tube sites. We use polyurethane laminate fabric (PUL), which is US-made and has a water-resistant coating. PUL in the G-tube pads is useful for the wearer because it keeps the G-button site dry, preventing irritation and granulation tissue. However, this also means it won’t biodegrade quickly, nor can it easily be recycled. Once a customer finishes using a g-tube pad, the only place for it to go is in the trash. We have yet to find a safe and cost-effective solution to recycle items like these, especially since they’re used around medical devices and may have bodily fluids on them. Also, like all synthetic blend fabrics, they can release microplastics into the water supply during washing. It’s great that someone can reuse a g-tube pad over and over again, rather than going through wads of cotton gauze and tape, but it’s not a cradle to cradle product yet.

Abilitee G-tube Pad

featured: Abilitee G-Tube + Cath Pad in Red

As a small startup company, balancing sustainability and cost is a necessity. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to invest in creating new sustainable fabrics, so we must rely on larger companies to take that initiative. That means we have to work with current options and wait till new material is commercially available for smaller brands. Luckily, many companies are investing in this type of development, and we are excited to see what future innovations will bring. Six or seven years ago, recycled polyester wasn’t readily available or affordable, but now some of our insulin pump belts use recycled poly. For a fiber nerd like me, that’s super exciting!

Abilitee Insulin Pump Belt in Charcoal

featured: Abilitee Insulin Pump Belt in Charcoal

Every time Abilitee develops a new product or sources new fabric, we take sustainability into account. It’s much easier to incorporate sustainability at the beginning of a product design rather than as an afterthought. As a company, we are continually working to improve our footprint on this planet. We hope that within a few years we will have more products not just made with eco-friendly materials, but designed for a cradle to cradle product lifecycle. 

Want to know more about sustainability for small businesses?
Check out Cultivating Capital's Small Business Guide to Sustainable Business Practices. Ecenclose has a fantastic resource center, and we love this article on Sustainable Packaging Resources.
What about sustainability in the retail industry?
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition includes brands, retailers, manufacturers, and tools to measure your company’s social or environmental impact. 
And for all things cradle to cradle:
Check out the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. This nonprofit works with businesses and all parts of the supply chain to increase the positive impact of products.

 

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