Milwaukee native looks to reduce waste, carbon footprint one gift at a time

NOW: Milwaukee native looks to reduce waste, carbon footprint one gift at a time

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Many folks may know the struggle of picking up piles and piles of wrapping paper after the holidays and stuffing it into garbage bags to be thrown away.

One Milwaukee woman is on a mission to change the gift unwrapping experience and help Mother Earth in the process.

"I've always been someone that hates to throw anything away. Always looking for ways, sometimes creative, sometimes a bit weird, to be more sustainable around the house," Elizabeth Mueller said. "One Christmas I decided, 'You know what? I'm just going to cut up some sheets we're not using anymore and wrap them up with ribbons and see how that goes.'"

A foster mom, Mueller says the idea turned into a bit of a tradition at their home, one that she decided she wanted to share with other family members and close friends. Eventually, Swathe Gifts was born.

"It just really, I think, peaked people's interest," Mueller said. "I know there are a lot of people out there like me who often look around and just feel really overwhelmed by everything that's going on in our climate today."

According to mindthewrap.org, roughly 4-million tons of holiday waste in the United States is made up of wrapping paper and shopping bags. That equates to around 30-million trees that are cut down.

The Swathe Gifts concept looks to change that with Mueller, and her helpful mother, sewing fabric made from environmentally friendly and reusable materials to be used as an alternative to wrapping paper.

In just six months of business, they've already sold roughly 500 items which can be found at The Local Collective in Hartford, locally inspired in Port Washington, and The Vintage Glass Garden in Milwaukee. Around the holiday season, you can also find Mueller selling her product at the Milwaukee Makers Market.

"It all stays in the community. It's lessening that carbon footprint because you're not going to this big box store that's having these products shipped in from all over the world," said Milwaukee Makers Market Owner Ryan Laessig, speaking about the benefits of shopping locally. "You're right here in Milwaukee. It's made in your neighborhood and you get the whole story behind it to know this is a green friendly product that's being made in my city."

The classic Swathe collection is made of 100% TENCEL, a sustainably produced fabric. For Earth Day, Mueller launched the company's new eco-HERO collection made of recycled and upcycled materials.

"I find the fabric either sourced from second-hand stores, vintage stores that would have been otherwise left by the wayside. Also source from fabric wholesalers. It's fabric that would have ended up in the landfill," Mueller explained. "Then, I use ribbon that's made out of recycled water bottles."

As her business continues to grow, Mueller finds herself grateful for her supportive family and friends have helped make it possible. She's also proud of the difference that she is making. Still, running a business and being a mom isn't easy, and she admits she hopes to find some help.

"As a parent, my life often gets pulled in many different directions. I definitely spend a lot of time working on supporting my family and then this is my second fulltime job," Mueller explained. "I, in the next year, want to find a local Milwaukee manufacturer to help me create these, who shares my sustainability mission and is a local producer and local maker as well. I can only sew so much on my own."

Until then, Mueller plans to continue what she started, sewing up a difference from her Milwaukee home.

"My biggest hope for Swathe is that it just helps people stop and think, 'Is there a different way I could do this?'" Mueller said. "I think Earth Day is a great time to reflect on, what are those little things that we can just pause on and use again, or just find a different method to have them not end up in the landfill."

For more information on Swathe and how the product is made, visit the website here.

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