By Angus Grahame, Founder of Splosh
The business I set up in 2012 was a genesis of an idea I had after a visit to a supermarket. I was there to do the recycling, and, as I was putting the various plastic from our home products into the recycling bin, I saw a young mum exiting the supermarket with a trolley full of exactly the same plastic bottles. Suddenly the strangeness and weirdness of what I was doing struck me. That I was going to be buying identical bottles to the ones I was recycling in a day or so. That is why I set up Splosh.
What we do
We make it easy for our customers to cut out plastic waste from a range of products that you would find in your home such as shampoos, shower gels, laundry products, home cleaning products and dishwashing products. We sell refillable bottles direct to our customers and then once you have purchased the bottles and used the product (and hopefully liked using it!), then you buy a refill.
All the bottles are different, but the refills are identical. They arrive in a small box that is thin enough to fit in a letterbox. Inside the box is a pouch which contains a refill concentrate. The concentrate is added to the bottle and customers add their water, shake and mix. The innovation we’ve had, has been to work out how to concentrate a range of household products so they will fit in the refill box. That hasn’t been straightforward. Concentrating a washing up liquid isn’t just a question of taking the water out. It is a complete reformulation.
Our products are probably the most technically advanced in the world, especially the washing up liquid. It isn’t just about cutting out waste plastic, it is also about value and convenience. We can offer value because all our refills are identical so we can get great economies of scale and we are a very vertically integrated business. Raw materials come in at one end and the Royal Mail van arrives at the other – there’s literally nothing else going on in our factory. And we also offer convenience in a subscription model, and you can order via an app that we have.
The heart of the business is the refill pouch. Why is it plastic if we want to cut out plastic waste? There are two key reasons for this – we have experimented with every type of refilling option. It allows for greater performance of the product and there are a number of technical reasons why a pouch refilling system will also give a better performing product which is what consumers want. It is also a cost-effective system as it is the same refill pouch for all of our products which allows us to be really competitive on price.
Here’s the difficulty, plastic is a good material. In many ways it is better than cardboard, but plastic waste is a really terrible thing. So, the obvious answer is don’t throw away plastic and our thinking behind stopping it being thrown away is to give it value. If it has worth, then it not waste and it will not be considered waste after it has been used once. And so that’s really the heart of our business we don’t see plastic that has been used once as waste, instead we see it as a resource.
We encourage customers to return the pouches for free. When we get the pouches back, we wash and santitise them, then we try to refill them. We call used pouches ‘crinklies’ because they have been squeezed – we sell them at a slight discount and that has proved very popular with customers. Ultimately after 2 or 3 refills the pouches are going to leak, and it becomes less appropriate to send out to customers, so we have worked out a way of reprocessing the plastics.
The key problem with plastic recycling is that plastics get mixed and that makes the sorting of them really difficult. Frequently they go to waste or are burnt. But the best thing that can happen to plastic is that it gets downcycled however, the colour would be black. Our intention is to create a new higher value product and we can do that because our plastics are not mixed so we know what we are dealing with. Our plastic is shredded and washed – this is a process we are just starting on now. We send them off to a partner who granulates them. It is turned back into feedstock for new products. The new product has just the same value as any other new version of plastic.
We have made products in the past such as a simple ice scraper made from completely reprocessed pouches. The whole idea is that it is going to be a profitable exercise for us as well as benefit the environment. Once that reprocessed product reaches the end of its life, the idea is that it can be entered back into the mix of the plastic granules and be remade into other products again. We know what the materials are and that allows us to work with them in order to reprocess them.
That is the way we are doing it. I won’t say it is perfect, I would say we are on a journey and it’s a journey of discovery. There are rapid changes going on now in the industry as it wakes up to this disaster of plastic waste based on consumer outrage. Changes are now happening – pouches are multi-layered and they are going to become single layers which makes them easier to recycle. I would say that in time one may find pouches that are compostable at home.
The impact of circular thinking
Circular economy is going to be massive and central to how our world works in the future. How we get there needs government help. The problem at the moment is that the cost of waste, which is the failure of the linear economy, is not really factored into a business’s profit and loss. And it should be. There is a massive cost and if it was, then you would find businesses would move much more rapidly to the circular economy. In our sector there is a massive cost to single use plastic bottles that are thrown away every year. It is hard to work out, but substantial to the environment. I think government involvement to encourage a rapid movement to circular is what I would love to see.
This article is taken from a series of webinars in a three-day industry summit organised by MADE Cymru and University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) in June 2021. MADE Cymru is an EU funded (via Welsh Government) initiative that seeks to support and boost manufacturers in Wales via upskilling programmes and R&D. Find out more www.madecymru.co.uk or email one of the team at [email protected]