EASTHAMPTON — As lightweight and versatile materials, plastics have become one of the most widely used substances on the planet.
But with their heavy use comes an even heavier price — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates about 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the Earth’s oceans every year, never to fully decompose.
Easthampton resident Michelle Zimora was sick of constantly using plastic wrap to save food her two young children didn’t eat. So instead she came up with ZWraps, a reusable food wrap that became a successful business that eliminates the need for traditional plastic wrap.
“It all just came from me wanting to make something for my family to be able to use to use less plastic,” she said.
Zimora’s product concept is pretty simple: Colorfully patterned cotton fabric is coated with a mixture of beeswax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin to mimic the properties of plastic wrap. Packaged in compostable cellulose bags, the wrap can be bought in four sizes and found in six styles — not to mention it can withstand 100 hand washes under cold, soapy water followed by air-drying, she said. She sells her product at prices that range from $7.50 for small wraps to $15.95 for extra-large wraps.
Coming from a self-proclaimed “family of makers,” Zimora started the business in April 2017 with her husband. She had seen similar products online before, but none ever fully caught her attention.
Through a lengthy process of trial and error, Zimora ended up finding the perfect combination of beeswax and other ingredients to give her leftover fabric its sticky quality. But one thing about her product didn’t sit right with her.
“We quickly realized that the right fabric did not come in cool prints. That was not going to be OK,” she said.
She reached out to Susy Pilgrim Waters, a Boston artist who eventually partnered with Zimora to create bright designs for her product. The design matched her vision for the product — so Zimora purchased 500 yards of the fabric in bulk and made her full-time job selling ZWraps.
“Sustainability deserves to be beautiful,” she said.
In March 2018, she saw success at the New England Made trade show in Portland, Maine, where in only one weekend she made it into 40 stores. Currently, Zimora’s product is online and in 600 stores across the country, ranging from large retailers such as Sur La Table and smaller brick-and-mortar stores including Cedar Chest in Northampton.
ZWraps are handcrafted and packaged by a group of working mothers in the Eastworks building, where they moved last October. Zimora said she still enjoys going to makers markets in the area to get feedback from local people on the product.
She said ZWraps could be used as a starting point for people looking to make more environmentally conscious decisions by moving away from single-use plastic.
“You can pick and choose what you use it for. You don’t have to be militant and get rid of every single plastic that’s in your whole house,” she said. “You can choose, and just start off replacing it with the plastic that you use for your cheese.”
Zimora hopes that, after repeated use of ZWraps, sustainably conscious decisions would become more of a person’s daily routine.
“You just get more and more in the habit and next thing you know you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t touched plastic wrap or Ziploc bags in a really long time, this is pretty cool,’” Zimora said.
Zimora believes that if more people take action to reduce their individual carbon footprints, eventually change could be made on a much larger scale.
She knows that using her product takes a little more effort from the user than disposable plastic wrap. But if the product works well and looks good, Zimora believes people will eventually become attracted and change their habits — even if it takes a little convincing.
Channeling her former career in outdoor education, Zimora said her product provided a unique opportunity for people to learn about ways to mitigate an individual’s environmental impact.
“There is a sense of education that goes along with this product,” she said. “If people are making strides to make businesses out of environmental opportunities, you are tasked with that educational moment.”
Michael Connors can be reached at mco firstname.lastname@example.org.