Going green: Two Traverse City companies are here to help you do your part for the environment

How many of us recycle plastic, glass, aluminum and paper, compost in our backyards, and still find we're putting bags and bags of trash on the curbs each week?

It can be tough to try to make your household more eco-friendly and reduce your waste when so much of what we do each day generates trash.

Tina Beatty is a Traverse City-area woman who faced this problem a few years ago, and found a solution. Her family had found alternatives to plastic wrap and aluminum foil, but plastic baggies for school lunches and snacks remained a problem.

"I was packing lunches for my son and just didn't like all the baggies I was throwing away," Beatty says. "I started looking online for other products that would be more sustainable."

She tried a few reusable snack and lunch bags, and didn't care for the results. Crumbs got stuck in some corners, the vinyl or plastic materials used weren't very earth-friendly, or the design just wasn't practical.

So Beatty solved the problem by making her own product, starting with organic cotton material that was easy to wash, and more sustainable than synthetic materials.

"I wanted to start with something that was good to the earth, rather than just having an end result that is reusable," she says. She made some test designs, and sent them to school with her son, as well as getting friends to try them. That was two Octobers ago.

This fall, Beatty is running a full-time company called Eco Lunch Gear in Traverse City, which makes and sells hundreds of her reusable, organic cotton snack bags each month.

The back-to-school rush in August was a particularly busy time, keeping Beatty and two more part-time seamstresses busy sewing varying sizes of snack wraps, sandwich wraps, cloth napkins, and even small tissue pouches for desks or purses -- which were added to the line to reduce fabric waste, another sign of the company's commitment to the earth.

While online ordering makes up some of Eco Lunch Gear's sales, there also are 11 stores that sell Beatty's products, including one in the U.K. And the future for her growing company is only brighter: She's hit a big target market for her products with Whole Foods stores in California, and another big client is in talks, although she can't say who just yet.

"I really feel it will continue to grow; the more that people are realizing that sustainability is where we need to go, the more people are finding us," she says.

Currently, Eco Lunch Gear operates out of a small Traverse City office, but Beatty hopes to expand soon.

"I'd like to get a bigger place and get several sewers working at the same time," she says. In the meantime, Eco Lunch Gear products are available online and at Green Island, Oryana Co-op or Hazelnut Kids in Traverse City; Christine's in Dexter, or the Grain Train Natural Foods Co-op in Petoskey.

And once you get some eco-friendly lunch gear, you'll probably want an eco-friendly bag to carry it in, right? Traverse City-based priorLIFE has you covered on that front; they make tote bags, laptop cases, lunch coolers, messenger bags and an assortment of other things out of recycled vinyl banners.

The company came about as a division of Britten Banners, Inc., which has a Traverse City facility. Britten wanted to find a way to re-use the heavy vinyl banners they create for what are often one-time events like company picnics, marathons, sporting events, or community festivals. Vinyl is notoriously long-lived in landfills, and plenty durable enough for re-use in a creative way.

What priorLIFE does is recycle old banners into new products, making one-of-a-kind graphic designs in the process. Some feature the banner design as a souvenir or gift from the event, while others use the striking colors and patterns to create a new design.

Northwest Michigan business owners have supported priorLIFE too, with the products available at Traverse City stores like Golden Shoes, Horizon Books and The Cherry Stop, as well as at Green Goodness in Leland and the Painted Bird in Suttons Bay.

So is your lunch bag, tote or backpack earth-friendly? If the answer isn't yes, it's not because you can't buy it locally.

It's clear Traverse City companies are stepping up and offering some eco-alternatives to the traditional route, and there are plenty of customers willing to add a little green to their back-to-school wardrobe.

Kim Hoyum is a freelance writer based in northern Michigan. Her credits include contributor to Geek Girl on the Street as well as a regular writer for several weekly and monthly publications. Hoyum is a graduate of Northern Michigan University where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in writing.
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