Tina Menzie loves Christmas cards. She tries to send them every year, but when a card didn’t arrive at her friend’s house in late 2006, Menzie received a concerned phone call.
“My friend wanted to know where her card was,” says Menzie, a resident of Grand Ledge, Mich. “I was in law school at the time and was just too busy. When I told her that everyone throws them away anyway, she challenged me to make something that she won’t throw out.”
The comment sparked an idea. As someone who cared about the environment, Menzie disliked throwing things away. What if she could make a biodegradable greeting card with a seed embedded that the recipient could plant after use?
Menzie got to work immediately. She graduated from law school in 2007, formed a company around the greeting card product, named it Future Oxygen and was granted a patent the following year.
“We did a ton of research and development to make sure the product would be eco-friendly, and we wanted to make it here in Michigan,” she says. “Now we employ people from two non-profits in Michigan, one that hires college students and the other that hires mentally and physically disadvantaged workers.”
Over time, Menzie expanded her product line to include hemp bracelets (pictured), key chains, necklaces and buttons. Each item has a seed embedded in its pendant and all product materials (excluding small metal pieces) are biodegradable. According to the website, jewelry can be worn for up to two years, then should be soaked in water and planted in soil.
“Our products grow into trees, grass or flowers,” Menzie says. “We even make themed pendants. Our breast cancer pendants showcases the pink ribbon and grows into pink flowers.”
Dedication to zero waste
While Menzie’s products are zero waste by nature, she is also dedicated to making the rest of her business easy on the environment.
“We reuse all of our materials; all unused clay and pulps for making the pendants goes into making another piece,” she says. “We also capture the water we use and filter it into our test garden.”
Why is this so important to Menzie?
“We live in a throwaway society and I want to help change that,” she says. “I am really into products that can be used a second and third time, which is why I’m so passionate about this product. You can switch out pendants and make a beautiful garden at the same time.”
In the next few years, Menzie would like Future Oxygen to offer wall art for children’s rooms (“when kids get sick of it, they can just plant it,” she says) and partner with large organizations to showcase more logos on her products.
Tips for going "zero waste"
How can other companies move toward becoming zero waste?
“Connect with other business owners in similar markets and find out what they are doing to help the environment; don’t try to re-create the wheel,” she says. “And don’t give up; it can take effort, but the best things in life are hard work.”
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Going Green 2012 series.
Photo credit: Courtesy Future Oxygen