The story (so far)…
I’m a mum to 4 children, and as a family of 6 we get through a lot of stuff: food, soap, washing detergent, fuel… the list is endless. During lockdown, all living day-in, day-out under the same roof, the size of our true weekly waste pile hit me. 6 people living responsibly by modern standards were producing more recycling than could fit in our bin. The sight of the overflow filled me with shame; I needed to do more than just crush the cans flatten and stack the egg boxes.
We all feel good about doing ‘our bit’ in the recycling process, diligently washing and sorting cans and plastic, but our efforts are just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the jaws of the bin lorry is a long and energy-intensive process, converting plastic, paper and metal with a serious carbon footprint. As avid household recyclers we must also face the reality that very little of what we throw into the bins actually makes the cut. Much of what we throw away is either contaminated or simply not fit for recycling. In stopping to think about the process I found myself viewing each piece of waste through a kind of ‘eco-lens’, questioning its origin, purpose and afterlife.
During the tough weeks of lock-down a myriad of questions circled in my head, and slowly but surely the simple concept of re-using plastic bottles and filling them with eco-friendly products began to crystallise in my mind.
Re-using or re-purposing is the most energy-efficient way to make plastic pay. It comes with a lifetime guarantee, so we simply need to stop binning it and use its first form over and over again. When something is built to last, we owe it to that product, to the energy and materials that have gone into its manufacture, to make it do its time.
In 2015 supermarkets introduced the bags for life, and for a few months many of us were caught out at the checkouts and continued to be charged 5p for our bags. But over a short time period this became the ‘new normal’ of shopping, and the mass behavioural change has led to the saving of billions of new carrier bags being made to date.
For every bag that’s reused, demand reduces by one. Multiply this by the number of households choosing to re-use and not re-cycle and there’s a significant saving of energy and resource. Now imagine if we did the same with bottles.
To promote a bottle into the eco-friendly ranks it must contain eco-friendly product. That’s where Swoopl comes in. I offer a re-fill service of eco-friendly household products, promoting the re-use of plastic housing ‘green’ detergents and washing liquids. Re-filling and eco-friendly isn’t a new concept – there are some amazing eco shops out there - but it’s not a mainstream service either. People need to actively find a refill station, and these aren’t in our convenient superstores. Time is therefore of the essence, and for time-starved people working long hours or juggling kids or living with a disability, refills simply aren’t feasible. That’s where I come in.
At present I’m a 1-lady set-up, re-filling bottles from the back of my van. I plan my rounds to coincide with other mandatory weekly runs to ensure that the journeys are multi-purpose too. It’s a simple pour-to-door delivery service of green products, helping to make the world a cleaner place, 1 refill at a time.
I have plans to grow the business, taking on ambassadors to broaden the Swoopl network, creating access to eco-friendly refills for anyone who wants them. My dream isn’t about big numbers and market share, it’s about being part of an environmental awakening within people, enabling them to make greener choices and helping them to be fulfilled. Reusing carrier bags is standard practice today and I want refills to be just as common. It’s not about a few people doing zero waste perfectly, it’s about millions having a go (Anne Marie Bonneau), making a dent in the world-wide waste problem that, as a mum to 4, I can’t leave for my children to inherit.