Sustainable household and beauty brands are using Plastic Free July as an opportunity to spark new conversations with their customers about reducing their use of single-use plastics, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is giving some shoppers time to reflect on their own buying habits.
The annual awareness month, which has been run by the Plastic Free Foundation since 2011, is designed to highlight ways individuals and businesses can reduce the use of plastic, in a bid to curb its damaging effects on the environment.
At the same time, businesses are preparing for polystyrene packaging to be phased out in 2022 by investigating other materials to use when sending their products around the country.
Sign up for SmartCompany newsletter.
Free to your inbox every weekday
“An education opportunity”
One brand that is using the awareness month to further engage with its customer base is Pleasant State, which launched its sustainable cleaning products 12 months ago.
Founded by Sian Murray and Ami Bateman, Pleasant State sells non-toxic concentrated bars that dissolve in water to create all-purpose bathroom and glass cleaners which are supplied with reusable glass bottles.
Murray tells SmartCompany Pleasant State products are now in 8,000 Australian homes and the business has been able to save 20,000 plastic bottles from landfill since its launch. The goal is for that number to reach 100,000 by the end of the year.
Pleasant State also donates 2% of sales to charity Take 3 For the Sea and to date, has donated $5000. It’s hoping to grow that number to $10,000 by 2022.
Murray has set a personal goal of learning how to make her own almond milk this Plastic Free July, to reduce the need to buy milk in cartons, and she has been sharing that personal commitment with Pleasant State customers. At the same time, the brand is starting conversations and sharing information via a dedicated Facebook group to get more people talking.
“We’re treating it as an education opportunity,” says Murray, “as it is one of those times that is very noisy as well”.
Consumer attitudes, and knowledge levels, around plastic use are changing, says Murray, and she believes the pandemic has influenced this. While on the one hand, the use of some kinds of disposable products has increased — such as single-use face masks and coffee cups — people have also been forced to spend more time in their homes during lockdowns and are therefore thinking more about the kinds of products they are using.
This bodes well for a cleaning brand like Pleasant State.
“During lockdown, people tend to take more care of their homes and they are cleaning their home more regularly,” Murray observes.
“We always see a little bump in sales when a lockdown is announced as people are more focused on their home. And it ties in with the use of chemicals too; during lockdown you can’t bleach the house and then go out for a few hours”.
New Zealand-based Ethique has also been participating in Plastic Free July conversations, urging its customers to join its #giveupthebottle mission by running competitions and sharing information to help them take up plastic-free products.
The zero-waste beauty and lifestyle brand, which makes solid beauty, haircare and skincare bars, was founded in 2012 by Brianne West and employs a team of 27 people across the US, UK and New Zealand.
While the company doesn’t share sales figures, West says its sales have grown by almost 1000% in the three years to 2020.
West tells SmartCompany the brand has recently celebrated saving 12 million plastic bottles from being disposed in landfill, and like Pleasant State, has noticed a greater number of consumers who now care about reducing their use of plastic. At the same time, a greater number of plastic-free beauty products in the market shows the growing appetite for these products.
“When Ethique was founded, plastic-free wasn’t the huge concern that it is for many today,” she notes.
“Solid beauty bars weren’t a ‘thing’ and they definitely weren’t available from your local supermarket, or even Amazon.”
“Everyone can ask more”
In the past, Murray feels some people may have seen Plastic Free July as a quick fix or “band aid” to address plastics use and, in turn, that created unrealistic pressure on individuals to “flick a switch” and completely eradicate plastic from their lives. In reality, she says reducing the use of plastics requires planning, both for individuals and businesses.
“For example, when we order a product from a manufacturer, we need to have the conversation around packaging before it shows up,” she says.
Murray recalls discovering that the glass bottles used in Pleasant State’s products were to be wrapped in three layers of plastic when being sent from the manufacturer, as per industry standards. The team requested the plastic be substituted with cardboard egg wrap and in the process saved the equivalent of thousands of plastic items entering the supply chain.
Everyone involved in a supply chain has responsibility for changing how much plastic is being used, says Murray, from the manufacturer right through to the consumer.
“Customers can ask more from businesses, and we [as a business] can ask more from our suppliers. Everyone can ask more of those around them.”