The zero waste revolutionary lifestyle could not be easier with a brand like Onya. From reusable shopping, bread or bulk food bags, to water bottles or coffee cups… all are ethically made from recycled materials. They have managed to create a zero waste business model that also works together with other companies to implement initiatives and get more people to incorporate sustainable habits. Join the plastic-free movement and make a difference with your zero waste life: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rot.
We interview Hayley Clarke, the Managing Director of Onya to learn about how the business started and realise how much consumers, together, can contribute to making an incredible impact on plastic waste. Onya is not only a zero waste business but also actively collaborates with other businesses to share the idea of a zero-waste life. It’s a double side effect: consumers demanding better and stores offering alternatives.
We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did!
What is the story of Onya, why did the brand start?
It was a fragrant summer evening that our founding father Jon Brousson, lying in his hammock amongst the trees, with the stars blazing above, was asking himself how he could create meaningful change in his community by reducing the prevalence of single-use plastic.
Every day Jon found himself confronted by out of control plastic waste with disposable shopping bags being a major contributor. With a little ingenuity and few sewing skills, Jon created Onya’s first reusable shopping bag. He proudly used his shopping bag at every opportunity – at the supermarket, farmers market or just shopping for anything that would require a bag, and pretty soon people were asking him to create one for them too.
Onya has since grown into a company that prides itself on creating high quality, useful, reusable products for your everyday life that can easily be kept ‘On You’. Our goal at Onya is to offer our customers a well thought out quality alternative to single-use plastic. We are quite literally taking plastic waste from landfill and turning it into something reusable for many years to come.
Why does so much plastic end in the oceans, and how can consumers contribute to avoiding plastic use?
Needless single-use plastic is everywhere you look, from shopping and produce bags, drink bottles and coffee cups to disposable takeout containers, utensils and straws. Carelessness along with lack of education and preparation would be major factors in how plastic ends up in the oceans. People need to become more fully aware of the harm plastics are causing our planet and everything that relies on it for life and makes changes everywhere they can to reduce their own personal waste as there are many solutions available for so many things in your daily life. As consumers, we can refuse to accept many forms of plastic by simply choosing to do so, either with a sustainable alternative or using nothing at all. Encouraging those who supply it to make changes to more sustainable options can also have an impact, for example, recent straw bans across the globe have demonstrated that suppliers can make changes for the better. Making sure to always have an alternative On Ya so you can refuse any that is offered to you goes a long way in making a difference, not just your personal use but others will see you doing so and may be prompted to take action themselves.
What are all the zero waste life products the brand offers?
Our range of products include reusable shopping bags in 2 sizes, reusable produce bags in both a 5 and 8 pack with a carry pouch, reusable bread bags, reusable bulk food bags in 3 sizes available individually or in a set, reusable stainless steel drink bottles available in 3 sizes, reusable silicone coffee cups available in 2 sizes, reusable sandwich wraps, backpacks, and a waste disposal bag system (compostable waste bags in a refillable carry pouch).
What are the most common materials you use to create the products? Also important, what materials are NOT used?
We use recycled materials where possible for all our products. Onya uses rPET (a fabric produced from recycled plastic water bottles) to make its reusable bags. Plastic bottles are gathered from recycling plants and are cleaned and sorted. Then they are crushed into small flakes, heated to melting point and extracted to create yarn – which is then used to make our bags.
Creating an eco-friendly product in this way – from an already existing material rather than straight from scratch – saves on energy and resources and also means there is less plastic polluting the natural environment or wasting away in the landfill. It is these processes and products that will help us build a more sustainable planet and way of living, rather than simply churning through resources and living beyond our means.
The great thing about Onya rPet reusable bags is that unlike single-use alternatives, they have a long lifespan, and so also help to lessen the planet’s burden.
Are your products recyclable, once it reaches the end life cycle of the product?
Yes! All our products are 100% recyclable at the end of their long lives. Onya bags are designed to last for years (many of our customers have had theirs for 10+ years) and are recyclable anywhere that accepts rPET for recycling. In the case where you cannot find a recycler, we will gladly recycle any Onya products through our partnership with Terracycle, including our stainless steel drink bottles and silicone coffee cups. Any Onya customer can return their older products to us and we will recycle them, making Onya a 100% zero waste business and providing a closed loop system for all the products we produce. Our commitment to sustainability extends to our packaging which is made from post-consumer recycled material and printed with water-based inks so it is suitable for both recycling and composting.Any Onya customer can return their older products to us and we will recycle them, making Onya a 100% zero waste business and providing a closed loop system for all the products we produce #ZeroWaste #PlasticFree @OnyaLife Click To Tweet
You are pioneers to reusable alternatives to single-use plastic and zero waste life. How do you feel people are starting to become more aware of the plastic problem that is already affecting the entire world?
Unlike climate change for instance where the effects can be more intangible, you can see plastic pollution in action in your everyday life by simply looking at the waste you produce on a daily basis.
Once people are aware of the waste they produce, they can then take some fairly simple steps to combat it by just changing their habits around how they shop and what they purchase.
In Australia, programs like the ABC’s War On Waste was an incredible catalyst and a real wake up call to many Australians that up until then, weren’t aware of the waste we are producing as a nation and as individuals, and it shocked many people into action.
Once people start to get a taste for a low waste lifestyle, more often than not, they find it incredibly satisfying and feel they are making a positive impact, which they are, so they share the concept with their friends – word of mouth is a very powerful thing.
What do you think needs to happen in Australia to entirely avoid the use of single plastic?
There is a time and a place for single-use plastic, such as the medical field if it is responsibly managed, what we are against, is the massive overuse of single-use plastic in consumer-based lifestyles.
Using single-use plastic has been “sold” to us as a convenience and it has provided manufacturers with a cheap packaging solution to distribute their goods.
The unintended consequences of this have left us with an incredible volume of otherwise useless material after its first use, that it has taken a huge amount of resources to produce.
We believe that society can choose another way, and manufacturers can find sustainable alternatives for the packaging they produce.
Who do you think should take the lead to drastically reduce the use of single-use plastic, consumers, businesses or the governments?
This is a classic case of people power. Unfortunately, there are very few businesses and governments that will pre-empt a public outcry over an issue, they will wait for the issue to become a problem before looking at it closer and then taking action if people demand it.
We believe that the plastic-free movement, will and indeed has affected change in both business and government policy, and will continue to do so in a meaningful way in the years to come.
What have your partners and stockist in common? Say, are these most commonly bulk food stores?
The common thread that ties all our stockists together is their desire to be able to offer alternatives for single-use plastic to their customers.
Our stockists are incredibly diverse as our products straddle a number of segments from gyms & tourism to homewares and of course health and bulk food stores.
How do you think businesses, such as cafes, restaurants or supermarkets can incentivise us to bring our own reusable? Are there any particular initiatives you have seen in your partners that have worked really well?
I think cafés have proven that a discount for bringing your own cup can work very well and reward customers for thinking more sustainably.
Rewards for actions are often well received and this could take the form of a discount for using reusable produce or bread bags for instance. With the cost of living only going up, if families or individuals can be rewarded for living more sustainably, it makes it far easier to transition.
Many people using Onya products seem to be getting one of our favourite lifestyles: Zero Waste. Why do you think so many people have started to join this revolution?
The Zero Waste movement is an exciting movement to be part of because it is about consuming more consciously and actually having less “stuff” in your life, which we believe is incredibly freeing.
We do remind people thought that the term zero waste can be a bit off-putting and low waste is a good way to view it. For many people “zero” waste can seem unachievable and it can deter them from trying, but if we can encourage them to reduce their waste as much as they can, it is far more likely they will participate and be proud of their results, whatever they are.
The Zero Waste movement is an exciting movement to be part of because it is about consuming more consciously and actually having less “stuff” in your life, which we believe is incredibly freeing #ZeroWaste #PlasticFree @OnyaLife Click To Tweet
If someone would like to have a zero waste life slowly but has no idea where to start with, what would you recommend them to do?
One of the easiest ways to get started is by using reusable shopping bags. Australians use an estimated 5 billion plastic bags a year, which is just over 13 million new bags being used every day, so there is a lot of room for reduction there. Reusable drink bottles would be another easy to adopt and highly impactful step, Australians buy more than 118,000 tonnes of plastic drink bottles a year and most water bottles end in landfill where it takes over 1,000 years to bio-degrade. With over 10 million plastic straws used in Australia every single day, and given many recycling facilities don’t process straws so most end up either in the landfill or washed down stormwater drains and into the ocean, refusing plastic straws will also have a big impact on waste reduction.
Which are the firsts steps and the “must do” for someone to have a zero waste life?
Start by first assessing the waste you currently produce and then looking for easy ways you can reduce waste in that area. Once you have achieved that goal, find other ways you can reduce waste and on it goes.
With sustained purpose, these changes then form habits that then become a way of life.
How much plastic do you estimate you have already saved? Please provide some data worth sharing.
In 2017 with the support of our customers we were able to keep 715,000+ plastic drink bottles out of landfills and waterways and this year we are hoping for a much larger number. Our bread bag, shopping bag, produce bags and backpacks are made from up to 10 plastic drink bottles each, and our new bulk food bag set is made from up to 26 bottles. If a person refuses just 3 single-use plastic bags a week each year, that is over 150 bags/year so it really does add up over time.
In the past 12 months alone, through the sale of just our produce bags, we have been able to prevent 9.24 tonnes of single-use plastic drink bottles going to landfill.
Add to this the estimated 31,136,040 single-use plastic produce bags that haven’t had to be used because people brought their own reusable produce bags, and through the support of our customers we have helped make a significant dent to the plastic pollution problem!
You have fundraising section for schools, sporting clubs and non-fundraising events. Could you explain us a bit more about that and also how the fundraisers could benefit from using Onya products?
Selling Onya for fundraising provides a memorable and eco-friendly alternative to the sale of “traditional” fundraising items such as cakes and chocolate so you can be proud of selling products that are not only environmentally friendly, high quality, useful and functional, but are designed to be durable and last for years to come…and not contribute to your waistline! For more information, there is a Fundraising form on our site that can be filled out.
Are there any other initiatives Onya is working on that you’d like to share?
We have a few projects on the go, but nothing we can reveal just yet.
Do you sell worldwide? Or are you focused in Australia?
Onya is based in Western Australia but we do ship worldwide. We have many stockists across Australia & Internationally with more coming on board each week. We have a stockist directory on our website that people can use to find a retail location near them, and we do recommend calling ahead as not all stockists carry all our products.
May we ask, what have been the biggest struggles and frustrations on your social entrepreneurial venture?
Because our bag products, for instance, are ethically handmade from recycled materials, the lead time for production can be a little longer than we would like sometimes, meaning that we may go into an out of stock situation which isn’t ideal, as we hate keeping our customers waiting!
What is your vision, how do you see Onya Life evolving in the next years?
To a large degree, this will depend on what our customers want to see from us and where we think we can make the biggest difference.
We try to create products because there is a need for them in the marketplace and where a reusable alternative doesn’t already exist.
This makes our evolution process a very organic thing, but we try to stay nimble and well connected to our tribe so we know what they want to see next from us.
If you could write a message for other social entrepreneurs on a big wall, what would it say?
Dreams are great, but dreams + actions are better!
And what would be the message for the consumers?
You can make a difference!
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rot.
Is there any product that has made your zero waste life much easier? Comment below and share it with everyone!