Circular retail model hinges on packaging made from reclaimed landfill
A cleaning startup is on a mission to replace the single-use plastics from kitchens, bathrooms and laundries using a milkman-style delivery model with a twist.
Zero Co makes an extensive range of cleaning and personal care products packaged in reclaimed plastic – but instead of sitting on supermarket shelves, they are delivered direct-to-the-door and refilled when empty.
According to Zero Co, the average four-person household uses 6,204 single-use plastic bottles of personal-care and home-cleaning products in their lifetime. With this in mind, the Australian company set out two years ago to reverse the trend.
Zero Co has created a set of dispensers made from ocean waste plastic for its product range, which includes hand and body wash, laundry liquid, shower and toilet cleaner. These dispensers, which are sent out in the first delivery, stay in the home, and are filled up using colour-matched refill pouches.
The pouches are made from plastic waste diverted from landfill and are returned to Zero Co using a reply-paid postage satchel supplied by the company. Zero Co then cleans, refills and reuses the pouches.
If we nail this machine . . . then that's the holy grail of the circular economy
Founder, Zero Co
In October 2019, Zero Co launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $251,313 to help fund its first production run. Instead, it raised $742,427 from almost 7,000 Aussie households, making it the most funded Kickstarter in the country in 2019.
In May 2020 the Zero Co website was launched and the company began taking orders for delivery in October, and within the first month sent out 11,500 pre-ordered boxes.
The company hopes to reach a point where it will be refilling one million pouches at a time, but to do that, it requires a special type of machine to keep up with the demand.
“We’ve developed a bunch of intellectual property around this part of the business and we’re building this world-first piece of equipment that is going to automate that process,” Zero Co’s founder Mike Smith says.
“If we nail this machine and we can work out how to clean and refill a type of packaging for cheaper than it costs to produce a new one, then that’s the holy grail of the circular economy.”
The process behind Zero Co’s retail model is to take plastic waste from the ocean or landfill and transform it into what it calls “forever use” packaging. To enable this the company has built a custom-made machine for cleaning and sanitising its pouches at scale. The company says 10,000 used pouches returned by customers have now been processed through its new pouch recovery machine.
Who funds it:
Zero Co raised funds for its first production run in 2019 via Kickstarter, and more recently completed an equity crowdfunding campaign.
Is it ready to roll:
Zero Co’s custom-built pouch recovery machine began officially operating in August 2021 and the company continues to test its output.