Australian refillables start-up Zero Co has expanded beyond household cleaning and into beauty, launching refillable and single-use plastic free shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and roll-on deodorants.
Like its other products, the packaging in the new range is made entirely of recycled ocean plastics, and refilled using pouches which customers can return to Zero Co for cleaning and reuse.
While Zero Co considers their circular design revolutionary in the market, it is also actively choosing not to patent their designs in the hopes other players in the industry will copy them.
“We realise that we’re not going to solve the global single-use plastic problem by ourselves, and part of the mission here is to paint a path forward for the industry to become a lightning rod for change,” said Smith.
“If we, as a tiny company in Byron Bay, can solve this big problem and prove that we can do it profitably, there’s no reason why the biggest companies in the world can’t replicate it.
“I’d actively encourage all of our biggest competitors to steal our ideas and rip off our business model.”
Zero Co may have started as a “tiny company”, but after a recent $5 million equity investment round on Birchal which crashed the site’s servers for a time, the business now has much larger ambitions.
According to Smith, Zero Co is in active conversations with supermarkets to get their products onto shelves. It’s not yet known how these purchases will function within its circular loop, though a collection service is being considered.
The business also sees international expansion on the horizon.
“We have big global plans, but we’ve got to get a few things sorted in Australia first,” Smith said.
“The launch of these new personal care products is a big part of that, and there’s more products in the personal care and beauty space coming down the pipeline. But once we’ve launched everything into Australia, we’re looking at taking Zero Co to North America and Europe.”
Doing the hard yards
“We did a bit of research and found out that in Australia, 93 million single-use plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner get purchased, used for a couple of weeks, and then thrown in the bin,” Smith said.
“Similarly, 29 million roll-on deodorants are purchased and then binned, as well as 57 million bottles of skincare products. It’s absolutely crazy.”
Of these 179 million single-use plastic bottles, only around 15 per cent are properly recycled according to the Federal Government’s National Waste Report 2020. Zero Co hopes to avoid this by bringing body care products into its circular recycling system, which could lead to fewer single-use plastics being purchased and incorrectly disposed of.
This system also has the added benefit of enabling the business to offer liquid items, such as shampoo and conditioner, in a more sustainable way, while avoiding the pitfalls of alternatives such as shampoo bars, Smith claimed.
“What other companies have done is tried to solve the plastic problem by fundamentally changing the way that people interact with the product, and that often leads to a lesser product experience but makes it easier for the company to solve its plastic problem,” he said.
“What we’re doing differently is that we’re doing all the heavy lifting: we’re giving the product to consumers in the format that they want, and we’ll do the work of cleaning, sanitising, and refilling the pouches.”
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