Although complex to execute, there is an elegant simplicity to many circular economy solutions. Aussie startup RePlated is a case in point: reusable packaging for takeaway food made from recycled plastics that can be returned for recycling at the end of its life.
Founded by Sydneysider Naomi Tarszisz, the company doesn't simply provide reusable containers but a reuse system that allows individuals, business and food vendors to transition away from single-use packaging for good. The company is in the process of digitising its 'Swap & Wash' program where containers are returned to businesses by customers or food delivery services for reuse.
RePlated is a certified B Corp and took out the B2B category at this year's Circle Awards, impressive feats for a business with just six employees. Here, Founder and CEO Naomi Tarszisz shares her story of building the circular business from the ground up and her plans for the future.
"My name is Naomi Tarszisz and I'm the Founder and CEO of a business for good called RePlated. We make reusable takeaway food containers that are designed to replace single use by transforming the systems around takeaway and food delivery.
Australians eat 4.5 million takeaway meals per day, almost all of which are served in single-use packaging. Even when compostable options are used they are usually just put in standard waste bins, further contributing to our waste problem. Our innovative, reusable containers have been carefully designed so they are:
The most sustainable option after just 15 washes, better even than a properly composted single-use compostable.
The most affordable sustainable option when compared with expensive 'better' types of single use, such as cardboard, bioplastic or compostable, which many food businesses cannot afford.
We empower food businesses to save money and make sustainable takeaway packaging choices and enable individuals and workplaces to continue to enjoy the convenience of delicious, locally prepared takeaway food, without having to sacrifice the environment."
"I've been a waste warrior my whole life. I started out picking up rubbish from Sydney's Harbour Beaches when I was a kid and I found I was back on those same beaches, picking up that same rubbish, with my own children. I dug into the problem and realised it was one I wanted to dedicate myself to fixing. I also realised if we were going to make our own products then circularity was something we were going to need to address.
Early on in my journey, I was fortunate enough to meet Jodie Bricout, who introduced me to the CE and its principles. It was such an aha moment for me as it crystalised everything I understood about the future I wanted to create and gave me the tools to make circularity a cornerstone of our business.
We are circular at all stages of our product life cycle where we can be.
Firstly, and most crucially, the purpose of our product — we replace single-use packaging, one of the worst culprits of the linear economy.
Secondly, our reusable takeaway containers are made from recycled plastic and are made to be durable. When they do eventually wear out, while you can put them in standard recycling, we encourage our customers to send them back to us so we can make them into new products. We also make sure our product packaging, postage options, stickers and other marketing materials are either reusable, compostable or recyclable.
Finally, we also keep an eye out for new and more sustainable ways of doing things as we can all always do better! We still have one part of our containers that we are looking to improve — the silicone gasket that makes our containers liquid proof. Silicone is neither recycled or recyclable in Australia currently and we are already looking to transition to an option that is both."
"We believe that circularity needs to be adopted by our society as a whole and that it would have been irresponsible to go into business without it! So, for us, this is business as usual. Which I guess is unusual but becoming less so in the circular community of which we're proud members."
"While a lot of what we talk about is the beginning and next life of our physical products, it's actually the innovations we've piloted and are beginning to digitise around a reuse economy which are our most significant contributions ￼innovations. Credible alternatives to linear, single use, throwaway culture needs to involve system design and that requires us to treat everyone from individuals, businesses, facilities managers, government and, critically, food businesses as our stakeholders. Our Swap & Wash program addresses a lot of the concerns of these various groups and is currently being digitised for our business to scale up.
Some businesses make great reusable products. Others make good systems. We're one of the only ones who've tried to do both at once. We believe our values and circularity are a competitive advantage and we're building tools to make that a longer-term defensible advantage. We call our approach 'circular by design' — it's really integral to the business. We don't compromise on this, even if it's more expensive or takes longer. Or, as has often been the case, both!
"While a lot of our circular principles came from papers I read and conferences on the circular economy I went to early on, when it was still an idea, I did have a lot of help and incredible conversations to support what we are doing. I was very fortunate to have an amazing intern, ￼who went on to work as an environmental scientist, to support me in the earliest stages of the business. She worked with me to develop our principles and policies. We believed that was important for independently validating our claims. Greenwashing is something I think is very prevalent and the best way to avoid that is to be transparent and engage in recognised certifications. I've got an incredible local manufacturing partner and design partners who have helped us do a lot with a very small budget."
￼"It is not possible to purchase plastic that is food grade and has been recycled that originates in Australia. It's a ludicrous gap in our infrastructure that the government in theory has had three years to address since National Sword came into effect and nothing has been done in the public sector. Hot washing is the specific process that is lacking and this is part of what makes the product food safe. Although there are amazing initiatives that are beginning around this, they are private sector partnerships with big companies like Asahi and Cleanaway and not really accessible for startups or local businesses.
I'm fortunate to have been able to engage with one of our largest plastic producers — a soft drink company — and they were so impressed we'd been able to source not one but two sources of recycled food grade plastic. This gives you a picture of how hard it is! However, both our recycled plastic sources come from overseas so we still have to import them. Considering the amount of plastic waste we produce as a nation, that's ridiculous. As we grow in profile I want to use our platform to encourage that to change. All Australian businesses should be able to access onshore recycled plastic.
There also needs to be more incentives to manufacture locally because it's so expensive! We have customers demanding more sizes and while we would love to create more products, it is just too expensive to do at the moment without investment. If there were grants to support startups manufacturing locally — most tend to go to very wealthy multinationals — that would go a long way to supporting success in the circular economy by making local manufacture more attractive."
"If you can bake in key principles and governance and treat it as a priority from the beginning I suspect it's a lot easier than doing it later. A few keys things to start with:
Know your supply chain.
Manufacture locally if you can.
Think about disposal and end of life as a part of the design process.
Be transparent about your challenges because solutions can come from surprising places.
Dishwashers have been our Achilles heel in terms of getting product to market. Getting recycled plastic the right density to wash hundreds (or even thousands) of times has taken a long time and certainly was a steep learning curve. There is a lot of theory out there but so much has to be found out in practice. I often speak to other founders who want to manufacture about some of our challenges in the hope of making their lives easier. That’s even with incredible product designers and manufacturing teams with decades of experience.
Becoming transparent about our challenges and our journey has also opened so many doors and led to so much knowledge sharing. So my advice is get great mentors and lean into what is a fantastic community to share knowledge."
"We think the circular economy community is really vibrant and uplifting. People doing good while doing business is going to be the norm eventually and being a part of it has been gratifying personally to me and has helped elevate our brand as a lovely consequence.
2021 has been a pretty amazing year — we were acknowledged as being in the top five per cent in the world from B Corp, received a sustainability award from UNSW and a Circle Award in the B2B category, up against some amazing companies including our competitors. While we really try to run our own race, it was such an incredible moment for our business to have that recognition. We also partly won because of what we've achieved with our small budget. There are some incredible partnerships we're working on behind the scenes to support our vision and as these start to roll out over the next six months you're going to see a lot more of us.
We want to make single use history for takeaway food. That is our vision and our guiding light. On the way to doing that we want to continue to keep to our values and improve from where we already are."