Low Carbon Beekeeping
Beekeeping is a fairly Low Carbon business. The basics, such as hives, frames and tools are usually made from wood and steel (though there are alternatives!) and equipment is often used multiple times, even being re-purposed after their original use, to get even more miles out of what can be expensive pieces of equipment. But how do we achieve low carbon beekeeping?
Even when you factor in the less obvious side of beekeeping, such as fuel for vehicles to move bees around (or even just going to check on your bees) or the need for jars and labels for the inevitable product of keeping Honeybees, (which is Honey!) the overall Carbon Footprint as a whole is very low, compared to other industries.
However, as a business and ultimately, a conservation group, the Tree Bee Society is always looking for new ways of making our impact on this planet as small as possible, while balancing trying to run the Community Interest Company as a not-for-profit. When considering having to manage numerous colonies of bees, we had to consider which hive material would be the best for us.
Usually, beekeepers would go for a wooden hive, often cedar and carry out simple repairs as and when required. Beginning with wood as a material for our hives, we very quickly found that it wasn’t sustainable for us. Every winter was spent fixing up numerous hives and their boxes that had either split, weathered or just weren’t suitable for housing Honeybees in any longer and we were struggling to keep up with demand as well as keep other parts of our business running.
We did some research and found Poly Hives. Originally reluctant, since some Poly Hives are unable to be recycled at the end of their natural lives, we did some research and found some strong Poly Hives from a British Manufacturer, that would last 30 years with a good coat of masonry paint. Beyond that 30 years, they could be broken down and have various other uses, in packaging, for animal bedding etc. Considering many of our wooden hives were rarely making it beyond year 5 without needing repairs, or being replaced and even then, needing to be either burned or thrown away (after being stripped for parts for repairing other hives) it made more sense to go with Poly Hives.
The Poly Hives are travelling from their British Manufacturer to us here in the North West of England, they’re strong, lasting 30 years and they work best for the bees also. Due to their insulating nature, the Poly Hives keep the colony cool in the summer, so we see less bearding, but also keep the colony snug in the winter, keeping heat in. With wooden hives, we were having to insulate and install wind breakers around the hives – a somewhat costly and timely task. We still use wooden frames, that we make up ourselves, with beeswax foundation (which is repeatedly re-used and re-purposed), making the hives themselves a low carbon beekeeping option for the Tree Bee Society going forwards.
Most of the time, in various farming and agricultural practices, land degradation and soil erosion are a huge issue. Soil should be viewed as a cloak, that anchors all to the earth, however the World Wildlife Fund has stated that half of the topsoil on the plant has been lost in the last 150 years, due to intensive farming, leading to not only the loss of fertile land and increased chance of flooding (land with poor topsoil can worsen flooding as the land can no longer hold large amounts of water), but also increased pollution in streams and rivers. Topsoil is the lifeblood to our food, our health and well-being and by overworking the soil, we’ve made it unable to repair and maintain itself.
With low carbon beekeeping, we’re not actually touching the soil – rather, we’re just placing our hives on top of it. The Tree Bee Society rents our field from Burscough Community Farm and despite getting it mown twice a year (to prevent mass spreading of “weeds” and to manage it properly) the soil and ground is otherwise left to maintain itself. By doing so and by adding to the field in terms of maintaining it as a wild habitat, we’ve ended up with various species of birds and mammals using the field as home and a hunting ground. We see Swifts, Rabbits, Hares, Pheasant and even evidence of Badgers, while maintaining that fantastic topsoil for future generations. Burscough Community Farm are organic registered, so practice and promote sustainable farming practices, ensuring that they don’t overwork the land and always plant crops that will put nutrients back into the soil. Regardless, in terms of beekeeping, the damage to the land that you keep the bees on is minimal.
By-products can always be a bit of an issue for businesses. If the by-product is harmful, or not useful or profitable to be sold, then it can be an additional cost to the business for that by-product to be disposed of properly and even then, the disposal may have a detrimental effect on the environment.
Luckily enough, the by-products from beekeeping are quite beneficial. Honey, Beeswax, Propolis and Pollen are the main four and each have their own unique uses in various applications. Leaving the Propolis and Pollen to the bees, we take the Honey and Beeswax and use these in the products that can be seen in our shop. The Honey, most obviously, going in jars, with any excess that won’t make up a jar being used in our Lip Balms and other products. The Beeswax is used in our skincare range, and due to both not having a sell by date, or an end of life, if they’re not required right away, they can be easily stored until they are needed.
Both the process of removing the Honey from the comb and then cleaning up the Beeswax to make it into bars consumes energy to do so, however in looking to do both in the most environmentally friendly and low carbon way we can, we have found methods that work for us.
While packaging isn’t usually something you’d associate with low carbon beekeeping, packaging is usually what catches most small businesses out, especially businesses sending large amounts of fragile product. Due to postage prices, packaging must be tight, light and not in excess of what you require. Many companies buy in boxes and packaging for their products, requiring manufacturing at some point. Internal packaging can also leaving a lasting footprint, bubble wrap, packaging noodles and other internal packaging is usually very plastics heavy and it’s not biodegradable. Degradation varies from product to product and depending on who you ask it can take longer than first assumed. Some experts say expanded polystyrene can take a decade to begin to degrade, others, 500 years and some will say it will take a million or more years.
To tackle this massive issue, a lot of packaging noodles now degrade when they become wet and melt away, though there could be questions asked of how damaging to the environment the leftover substance is. At the Tree Bee Society, we re-use cardboard boxes and packaging that have been sent in to us from our purchased orders. For instance, the delivery boxes we receive our hives in are large cardboard boxes and are usually packed with degradable packaging noodles.
We save all the packaging noodles and cut down the boxes to size, any excess gets recycled. When you receive a package from the Tree Bee Society, it might be a bit different from what you expected, and it might be wrapped tightly with additional packaging, but this is to ensure the safe delivery of your items. Due to this policy of re-use, our waste cardboard for recycling is low (we recognise that there is a reasonable carbon footprint in the recycling process) and we very rarely must purchase new packaging for our products to get to our customers. We encourage all our customers to re-use and re-purpose our packaging for their own needs.
The Tree Bee Society also recognise that there are areas where we possibly don’t perform so well. Issues such as packaging in terms of containers for products (while our bottles for our Shampoo, Conditioner and Lip Balm tubes are recyclable, they are still single use plastics) need to be addressed in the long run, which is why we have applied and been accepted to attend Lancaster Universities’ Low Carbon Innovation Forum.
The Low Carbon Innovation Forum will give Tree Bee the ability to discuss global and local challenges with business experts and academics from across Lancashire who are industry leaders with their Low Carbon business practices. We are hoping that after attending this 6 month forum, we will be able to tackle our Carbon Footprint as we grow, ensuring that we leave only memories on this earth and can truly practice low carbon beekeeping.