September 16th, 2022
Australians purchase and throw away around 179 million empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, deodorant and other personal care products every single year.
Zero Co delivers planet-friendly reusable and refillable body care and home-cleaning products to a customer's doorstep, without any single-use plastic.
Within 2 years, Zero Co has pulled 1.2 million+ plastic water bottles worth of rubbish out of the oceans and is using that to make their products which have now reached over 70,000 Australian households.
The body care and household products industries have inherently been very wasteful, running on single-use plastic. Given the current convenience-driven and fast-paced consumer demands, this issue is only set to grow if not acted upon immediately.
Zero Co have set foot on an audacious mission to tackle this issue and ‘Untrash the Planet’. They are doing this by funding large-scale beach and ocean clean-ups across Australia, using the plastic collected to make their product bottles and are offering their customers a closed-loop, zero waste solution to single-use plastic household and body care products. They have set an ambitious target of pulling out 1.5 million+ plastic bottles from the ocean by the end of 2022.
We sat down with Mike Smith, Founder of Zero Co, to talk about their circular business model and their plans for a single-use plastic free future.
“Zero Co delivers planet-friendly body care and home-cleaning products direct to our customer’s doorstep, without any single-use plastic. On your first purchase, you’ll receive a reusable ‘Forever Bottle’ and a ‘refill pouch’ filled with product. The Forever Bottle is made from ocean, beach and landfill plastic that consumers can keep and refill, forever! The refillable pouch is made from recycled materials diverted from landfill, which after emptying its contents, can be returned (for free in a reply-paid envelope) to Zero Co for sanitising, refilling and sending to another customer.”
“Back in 2018, I travelled around the world and was really blown away by the amount of rubbish found in the most remote and pristine places. That’s when I came back to Australia and decided to start a business to solve this issue. I came back with the insight that to solve the waste problem we must do two things- i) We must end our current single-use and throw-away culture and ii) We need to work out a way to clean up all the existing trash present in the environment. That’s how the Zero Co business model evolved.”
“Australians purchase and throw away around 179 million empty bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, deodorant and other personal care products every single year. Only around 15% of the plastic waste in this country is currently being recycled with the rest entering landfill. As soon as we realised how much the body products industry contributed to plastic waste, the idea for a single-use plastic free body care range was developed.”
“However, we know that recycling is not the answer to the waste issue. Recycling is good, but it is not the silver bullet. The silver bullet is to stop buying too much and throwing away too much.”
My suggestion to any business wanting to go circular is to just start doing stuff today. Companies are often afraid to start and then end up overcomplicating things, waiting till they have everything solved. However, in reality, you cannot solve everything. You must start working on an imperfect solution quickly and keep evolving and reiterating the process as you go.
“Our business model is inherently built around the circular economy. We are responsible for everything we produce and deal with our own waste from start to finish. We send our products in refill pouches which after consumption get sent back to us, so we can clean, refill and send them back to other customers. With these refill pouches, we have created a closed-loop system and don’t need to rely on councils or municipalities to deal with our waste.”
“We are also doing large-scale ocean clean-ups ourselves across Australia and Southeast Asia at our own expense. The rubbish we collect is sorted by material type and then the HDPE plastic is sent to an Australian recycling facility where it is mixed with landfill-bound plastic to form what we call OBL (Ocean, Beach, Landfill) plastic. We then use the OBL to make our Forever Bottles. You can see the process we undertake to collect the ocean plastic and turn it into the bottles here.”
“Zero Co has been in operation for just two years, so it’s been a pretty exciting journey! Before we put our products in the market, we found our community first. We pulled off Australia’s largest Kickstarter campaign in 2019, generating $742,427 in pre-orders from almost 7,000 Australians. Within 12 months of this campaign, we officially began shipping our products to Aussie homes with around 11,000 pre-orders on day one. During this time we also secured 2 private investment rounds which has helped us to grow in a competitive market.”
“We invested our time to work out various aspects which make a scalable circular supply chain. We had to work out how to conduct ocean clean-ups at scale, how to sort the waste, how to process the waste, how to turn that waste into usable materials and then make them into bottles.”
“We spent a lot of time and effort in inventing and building our unique automated pouch cleaning and sanitisation machine. There wasn’t a machine like this at that time and we had to develop it ourselves. For this, we brought together a team of experts to understand how to best sanitise the pouch, gain some expertise in water sanitisation and usage, worked with mechanical engineers to create designs of the machine and systems engineers to run the program of the machine. We also secured a federal government grant of approximately $450,000 that contributed around 50% of the funding needed to build the machine.”
“In less than 2 years, Zero Co has delivered 18 major ocean and beach clean-up initiatives in Australia, pulling a staggering 1.2 million+ plastic water bottles worth of rubbish from the ocean. We aim to make this number 1.5 million by the end of 2022. Getting our pouches back is a big deal because that’s when we officially calculate the amount of new single-use plastic we’ve stopped from being produced. In doing this, we have stopped 1,178,730 water bottles’ worth of plastic from entering landfill. And that’s all from our growing community of over 70,000 Australian homes.”
“One of our biggest achievements is manufacturing our automated pouch cleaning machine. With the machine, we have been able to process, sanitise and recover our refill pouches at a rapid rate. The run cycle of the machine is about a minute during which we have around 10-20 pouches cleaned together.”
“A lot of people are realising the problem that plastics pose to the environment and are wanting to be part of the solution. We want to leverage this time by giving consumers a convenient solution to make an impact through the way they purchase and use their body-care and home-cleaning products.”
“We’re really excited to soon be rolling out into supermarkets and pharmacies across the country so we can reach more Australians and ask them to join us on this audacious mission to Untrash the Planet and put an end to single-use plastic.”
“We want to double our impact by funding more beach clean-ups, expanding our product range, scaling our pouch-cleaning operations and launching globally!”
“Head over to https://www.zeroco.com.au/ to ditch single-use plastics from your kitchen, laundry and bathroom today.”