Removing one million plastic containers from the planet in the space of one year might seem like a daunting and almost unachievable task, but Sydney man Mike Smith is insistent on making it a reality.
The 36-year-old is the founder of start-up Zero Co which looks to revolutionise the process of buying household products, and in doing so tackle Australia’s plastic waste problem head-on.
“The ultimate goal is to have every single product in bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens that are currently being bought in the supermarket delivered to Aussie homes,” Mr Smith, a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur, explained to Yahoo News Australia.
“We want to change the way people think about plastic consumption.”
His business model is simple. Zero Co will provide customers with reusable containers for household products, repurposed from plastic pulled from the ocean, and then deliver to them returnable sachets once their products run out.
The company is initially starting with 10 products – laundry liquid, stain remover, dishwashing liquid, dishwashing tablets, hand wash, body wash, multi-purpose cleaner, shower cleaner, toilet cleaner and air freshener.
Once established, Zero Co will target the release of a second batch of products including shampoos.
His passion for the project was sparked by an 18-month trip visiting large parts of the Middle East where he was horrified by the amount of plastic waste littering beautiful landscapes “in places you just wouldn’t expect”.
It’s this extreme level of pollution of land and water the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums have regularly dubbed a “plastic disaster”.
And it was quickly apparent Mr Smith’s passion for reducing plastic waste was shared by Australians across the nation after he listed the company on Kickstarter.
Launching just two weeks ago, Zero Co has become the most funded project in Australia on the crowdfunding platform, with nearly half a million dollars pledged. The company had originally set itself a target of $250,000 for one month.
Australians serious about plastic waste
“It’s a testament to the fact Aussies want a solution to this problem. As soon as we put this out to the world, Australians jumped on board,” Mr Smith said.
Those who donate $79 or more commit themselves to the process and will be sent containers to start their plastic-saving journey.
He said the company plans to roll out their products by June 2020 once they have created their reusable containers from plastic waste pulled from Indonesian waters – a task Mr Smith himself will be involved in.
The refill packaging is made from plastic diverted from landfill and are designed to be sent back to Zero Co free of charge.
“It’s a big problem in Australia and around the world, but I think the really good thing about this is it’s very visible and there’s no debate that it’s happening,” Mr Smith said.
According to Zero Co, the average four-person household uses about 200 single-use plastic bottles every year in their kitchen, laundry and bathroom — that’s about one billion across all households nationwide.
And right now, only 12 per cent of household plastic waste gets recycled.
Zero Co’s goal is to make sure one million bottles aren’t produced in their first year of production.
“Everyone has seen the bad news stories about plastics ending up in the ocean every year. We’re not here to preach to people or point the figure or shame anyone, we’re just here to provide a solution and to do that in a way that is inclusive and as positive as possible,” Mr Smith said.
Dr Geoffrey Binder, the University of Melbourne’s behaviour change and environmental sustainability expert, told Yahoo News Australia earlier this month that in the wake of the removal of single-use plastic bags from supermarkets, the nation is gradually seeing the “larger picture” when it came to reducing plastic waste.
“We’re slowly waking up to the fact that, while they were fabulous when we first started using them because they increased the availability of all sorts of cheap mass-produced products we could use, plastics have a sting in the tail and the sting is that these things don’t degrade and they’re in the environment forever,” he said.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia regarding Zero Co’s introduction onto the market, Dr Binder said it was easy to see why the company was making waves in Australia.
“It’s likely appealing as it’s easy and fits within existing pattern and practices of consumption,” he said.
“People care but need solutions that ‘fit’ with their existing ways of being in the world.”
So are the products any good?
Mr Smith says the only way his project will be a success is if the products on offer are of a high quality – and he’s adamant they are.
“They’re as good if not better than what you find on supermarket shelves and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
When comparing a shopping list including all of Zero Co’s refill products to 10 standard supermarket alternatives, there was a saving of $16.
Zero Co say they have been working with some of the country’s leading product experts to develop their range of plant-based formulas that “cut out all the nasty things that are bad for your family and the planet”.
Their products are palm oil free, vegan and cruelty free, greywater safe, low allergen, petrochemical free, SLS/SLES/Paraben/EDTA free and made in Australia with eco perfumes.
However Dr Binder said consumers must be aware of “greenwashing” – a practice used by companies to mislead consumers over the environmental benefits of a product.
He noted that while Zero Co had been a hit with Australians, there were certain elements of the company that would need more transparency to be able to categorically say such a project would have a significant positive impact on the environment.
‘Sexy’ design perfect fit for Australians
And then there’s the actual design of the containers which Mr Smith describes as “a little bit sexy”.
“Current home cleaning and personal care containers are a bit boring to be honest,” he said.
“We wanted to make ours visually appealing, modern, a little bit sexy and a bit cooler.”
Mr Smith believes the bright, clean designs – like the company’s core principles – are likely to appeal to the Australian way of living
And if the success of Zero Co’s Kickstarter is anything to go by, Australians are set to jump on board the start-up’s anti-plastic revolution.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.