Plastics polluting the oceans are a common sight on news outlets these days. Plastic water bottles seem to be one of the biggest culprits. I’m constantly looking for ways to reverse the damage done by plastic. During research I conducted on The Heathman Hotel in Portland Oregon for a story on pet-friendly travel; I stumbled across West Paw. Here’s what a Heathman press release said that caught my attention:
As believers in the luxury of a good night’s sleep, when travelers check into any of Provenance Hotels’ eight properties with a furry family member in tow, they will find their room equipped with a plush dog toy and an Eco Nap pet bed produced by West Paw Design. Created using recycled plastic bottles and eco-friendly materials, these lightweight sustainably produced pet mats make for dreamy travel beds, perfect for adding comfort to travel carriers or positioned bedside in a guestroom.
Author's dog Sophie loves her West Paw bed.
Intrigued, I looked up West Paw online and read their Who We Are page. When I saw that they have recycled over 15 million plastic bottles to make toys and beds I was sold. I purchased a bed and toy from their website immediately. My dog Sophie loves her West Paw bed and we take on all our road trips. It seems Sophie is able to relax at a strange home for the night when she has her own bed. With over 300 million pets in the U.S.A. just think of how many plastic water bottles would get re-used if half of those pet owners bought a pet bed made from recycled plastics!
There’s a growing concern for our world’s use of single-use plastics and many of us are looking for ways to do our part. We reduce, re-use, and recycle what we can to help. What we need is more companies manufacturing goods from recycled plastics that consumer’s desire.
Digging deeper I fired off several questions for West Paw’s CEO and President, Spencer Williams to share with Mother Earth News readers. Here’s what West Paw’s Amy Schumann said Spencer had to say about my questions and concerns.
When did Spencer decide to use recycled plastics in dog beds and toys and why?
Spencer Williams bought a small pet toy company in 1996. A 5th generation Montana, Spencer grew up on a ranch in Montana and was determined to take care of the place he called home. One way he knew he could take care of this land he loved was to manufacture pet products in a sustainable manner, and source environmentally friendly materials that could help lessen the company's carbon footprint. This desire to do the right thing solidified West Paw's leadership role in the "green" movement among pet product manufacturers.
One way Spencer went about sourcing environmentally responsible materials, e.g., recycled plastic, was utilizing technologies and materials that were already in existence but not used in the pet industry. After seeing a pair of recycled plastic Birkenstock socks in a shoe store in Bozeman, Montana, Spencer was curious how recycled plastic could be turned into clothing. Spencer followed the trail to find the supplier, and West Paw is happy to report they have been using this type of recycled plastic fill in their eco-friendly pet beds and toys ever since. To date, West Paw has kept over 15 million plastic bottles out of the landfill, a huge point of pride for their 70+ employees.
How hard was it to fund the startup of the company?
Spencer purchased a small cut and sew pet toy company and with a small team turned that company into what is now known as West Paw, a world-class manufacturer that sells in over 35 international markets.Why Montana when it's so much cheaper to manufacture outside the US?
West Paw is about attracting and keeping exceptional local talent that makes our unique company culture thrive. Bozeman, Montana is a tight-knit mountain community with a commitment to sustainable growth and land conservation. As a fifth-generation Montanan, Spencer was serious about putting down roots in Bozeman and investing in people, especially those with a Montana work ethic. As a community, Bozeman gives our employees and their families a healthy place to grow and it’s full of pet lovers who have helped West Paw test the durability of their toys and the comfort of their beds. West Paw has made pet products in this special place for over 20 years, and because of these reasons, they have no plans to leave.
Was there ever a concern of toxicity using recycled plastic?
Never. West Paw's eco-friendly recycled fabric, fill and batting has all been tested for safety by a third-party international certifier, Oeko-Tex. This is the same company that tests the safety of the fabrics used in children's toys and baby carriers. After all, pets are our family and we take their safety seriously.
What has the growth of the company been like from day one?
Over our past 22 years, West Paw has experienced steady growth with a few bumps in the road. We've been lucky enough to have operated in Montana since 1996 and luckily the vast majority of those years have seen financial growth. Since 2012, we have practice Open Book Management (OBM) to keep our employees knowledgeable about the company's financial health. We have discovered that practicing OBM increases employee involvement in day-to-day decisions which results in more buy-in. As a result, most years West Paw has experienced growth and offered more jobs to people in their community.
What eco-friendly practices does West Paw engage in other than making products from recycled plastics?
Wet Paw uses eco-friendly hemp in our leashes and collars. Hemp is an incredible agriculture product as it does not require much water and grows extremely fast. It is strong, so great for collars and leashes and soft to the touch (for both humans and dogs). We also use excess materials from our Montana Naps to make our Montana plush toys. By cutting materials smartly, we reduce the amount of scrap material that goes into the landfill.
West Paw lessens their environmental impact by using technology that allows them to greatly reduce paper usage, they have seen a 600-lb. reduction in paper. West Paw installed LED lights that will result in a 60% reduction of energy over the prior metal halide light fixtures. Additionally, they redesigned their product packaging to use 25% less material than their previous packaging.
In 2017 alone over 1,480 pounds of post-consumer Zogoflex® were recycled. (Through their Join the Loop® recycling program West Paw has recycled over 6,600 pounds of Zogoflex material back into our Zogoflex toys since 2014.)
What future products might be in the works?
West Paw is looking forward to diversifying their product offerings. In 2018, West Paw introduced our first collection of leashes and collars and in 2019 we have more exciting news that we look forward to sharing with our consumers and retail partners in the near future.
What Can You Do ?• Find manufacturers that sell products made from recycled plastics.
• Come up with your own idea to form a company making useful goods from recycled materials.
• Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
• Buy beverages in aluminum or glass containers instead of plastic when possible.
I hope Mother Earth News readers find their own solutions for re-using the glut of single-use plastics. Maybe there’s an untapped business opportunity that’s as good as West Paw for you to develop and make our planet cleaner and safer. I remain hopeful we will fix this problem before it’s too late.
Sophie and author at the top of Independence Pass on Colorado road trip.
Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska Magazine, Fish Alaska Magazine, Metropolis Japan Magazine, Edible Delmarva Magazine, North West Travel and Life Magazine, and Mother Earth News. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, MD area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like:GoNomad.com, Trip101.com, MotherEarthNews.com, Adventuresstraveler.com, and several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to GoNomad.com writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas.
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