Episode #165 Unlocking Curiosity: Regenerating Business from the packaging up with Jo Chidley of Re and Beauty Kitchen
How can we shift business to a regenerative model that will be fit for the world we need to create? Jo Chidley, recently returned from Davos, has devoted her business life to breaking the moulds of the way things are done – and has inspiring ideas of the ways we can shift our habits to change the world.
Jo Chidley is one of those forces of nature, unconstrained by the way things are usually done. As the co-founders of Beauty Kitchen, she and her partner refused venture capital, keeping their business free to become a B-Corp and to put people and planet ahead of profit. She’s dedicated to producing the best outcome for the people who work for her as well as for the people who buy her products. And in the process of finding the best ways forward, she came across the horror of single use packaging and the devastation it’s causing both in terms of the extraction and the post-use pollution. So Jo founded ‘Re’ to find ways to bring ‘reuse’ back into the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ triad. Now, she’s invited to Davos to speak about the way this could transform the vast global packaging industry.
So in this week’s podcast, we talked about why this is essential to transforming our world, and how it could work. Jo has ideas that seem (and are) innovative now, but ten years from now, will be the way things are done. With enthusiasm, integrity and a great deal of humour, she offers solutions to the meta-crisis that rely on each one of us changing behaviour – and she’s devoting her life to making it possible – indeed inevitable – that we do.
Manda: This week’s guest is someone immersed in this world and someone with the power to change worlds, I think. Jo Chidley is a chemist, a herbal botanist, a circular economy expert and co founder of Beauty Kitchen and Re. Two separate businesses that you will hear more about as we go through the podcast. Both of these are breaking the mould of their respective industries. Beauty Kitchen is one of the first UK B corps ever to sign up, and with a business model aligned with people and planet as well as profit, which is B corps are about, Jo began to make a name for herself doing that. And then she went on to found Re, which is devoted to making re-use happen in the packaging industry. Which, as you will hear, has a $1 trillion annual turnover.That’s 1% of global GDP.
Manda: Jo is one of those genuinely magical people whose enthusiasm lights up the room. It’s not just me that thinks this. She has won multiple industry awards, including the NatWest Everywoman Award in the brand of the future category. She was recognised as one of the ten most influential people in natural beauty in the UK, and she’s been featured in Elle and Women at Home and BBC News. She’s also a founding member of the Global Advisory Board for Sustainable and Natural Cosmetics. And with all of that behind her, she’s just back from Davos, where I sincerely hope and believe that her enthusiasm and her integrity combined with her really grounded understanding of the way things work, will have made a difference to the people who listen to her. So people of the podcast, with great delight, please do welcome Jo Chidley of Beauty kitchen and Re.
So Jo, of Beauty Kitchen and Re and lately of Davos, which impresses the heck out of me. Welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. It’s a delight to be able to speak to you. And you’re in Scotland. Yay, Scotland! Are you there at the moment or are you still in Switzerland?
Jo: I am, no. So I returned on Friday and the great thing is the flight was easy and short.
Manda: Right. Right. Nobody on strike. Everything moving. And I just have to say, I love your accent. You speak like I grew up with. But since I come south, I’ve lost mine. But by the end of the podcast, I will go downstairs and Faith will go, You’re speaking Scottish again, and it’ll be yes, I am. You see, we need to live in Scotland then I would speak like this all the time. Anyways, we have a new question for our new Year for all our guests and we’ll see where we get to, which is what makes your heart sing right now. And where does that take you?
Jo: What makes my heart sing, is joining together of human beings. But in particular the passion that women have to make changes when things don’t work. And I think, you know, we have a certain mentality and flexibility to our style. And we’re very good at taking people with us.
Manda: Right. Yes. Yes. And until very recently, was very aware that so many of the world’s really radical, smaller nations, so Scotland, Iceland, Finland, and until next week or so, New Zealand; all had women prime ministers or heads of state and seemed to be joining together in coalitions. The Wellbeing Alliance economy seems to bridge all of those countries, of we can change things, we don’t have to stay the way the world is. And it seems to me that this is what you have been doing, with Beauty Kitchen and with Re, is looking at the way the world is and going guys, it doesn’t have to be like this. Guys in general non gendered sense. So, because business is the area I know least about, so can ask the least useful questions. Possibly. But let’s take a step back. How did you found Beauty Kitchen and then how did Re arise out of it? If I’ve got the the time order right.
Jo: Yeah. That’s great. So I’ve worked for small organisations, large organisations and never really feel as if I truly fitted in. And I don’t mind being that person that stands out from the crowd either. You know, I’m an only child. I don’t know if that’s what kind of brings that to the fore. With Beauty Kitchen, I am a chemist and I’ve worked for some large cosmetic businesses before. And my husband and co founder has always felt that he didn’t necessarily fit in either. And we just saw that the beauty industry had lost, for the majority, it’s reason to believe. So for me, beauty and personal care is about confidence, it’s about self esteem. It’s about creating something that’s personal to you. But going through this, you know, evolution where people knew they could make a lot of money from it, and that then gives a different lens to what drives people to create those businesses, I think. And we felt that there was a different way to be able to approach the beauty industry in particular. And that’s where Beauty Kitchen was born. And our aspect was very much of how you run a business. We just didn’t feel that only looking through the lens of finances and commercials, where the bottom line and the top line are the most important things to make decisions, really, I suppose, talked to us as people. So we from the start worked with what’s now called the triple bottom line, which is B corp principles.
And what we mean by that is placing equal value or looking through the lens of the people aspect. And when we talk about people, it’s not just people that are employed by your business; it’s the people your customers, it’s your suppliers, it’s the human aspect on every angle. Yeah? And then the second part is equal weighting on the planet and the sourcing and resources that you’re taking. And what do you do with them outside of that generating money for your business? And how can you again regenerate that aspect of it? And then the third part is that should make your business more profitable. But when I’m talking about profit, I’m not just talking about pounds, euros and dollars, I’m talking about profitability in all aspects; from a people aspect and a planet aspect. So when it came to dealing with accountants, for example, the questions that I wanted to ask were how do we get that onto the balance sheet? How do we measure this and how does how is it represented? And I was the Alice in Wonderland in the room of you are mad. We don’t do that. And it’s not possible. Fast forward to 2023 and carbon accounting, impact accounting, sustainability accounting, whatever evolution it’s currently going through is a huge driver, not just for the big accountancy firms and banking financial system, but throughout everyone’s life.
Manda: So how long ago were you asking your accountants how to put this on the balance sheet?
Manda: Wow. So 13 years ahead of the loop. And did you manage to find a way to do this? Because it seems to me, I’ve studied economics and as a concept, it’s obvious that we need to bring the externalities into the room. But if only one person is doing it and you live in the predatory capital sea, the sharks are going to eat you. I imagine and I’m very happy to be corrected on that one. How did you manage to bring that into a way that worked? Did you manage to bring it into a way that worked?
Jo: So the first part was, you know, the B Corp movement in 2010 was still in its very early, early days in the US. It didn’t have a base in the UK. And B Corp is the B Corporation movement. It’s a certification that basically verifies, you know, what you’re doing is a business, not just through a financial lens but through other lenses as well. And, you know, I’m a big reader and I had read the original B Corp handbook and I thought, well, we are already doing that. So let’s just keep doing that and eventually that community or tribe, you know, gathers ground. And then it was launched within the UK in 2016, I want to say, and we certified in 2017. So we were doing it in the background. And what we found was that you can be just as profitable by looking through different lenses. It’s just that your business principles are not as simple; because you’re not taking resources, you know, making products and services and then selling them on and not worried about what then happens after that. So in the very early days, we were always obsessed with the detail. You know, what happens to our packaging, what happens to the ingredients that we use? Within, you know, what’s the impact, the environmental impact? And again, this was still quite early days.
When I studied chemistry, you know they didn’t have environmental science. It wasn’t a thing then. But at the end of the day, chemistry is chemistry and the principles of that haven’t changed. And I think as a scientist, you are obsessed by the detail and you have this curiosity of what if? What happens? You might not get to the final answer, but that curiosity can then drive opportunities. And the way that we approached our business, we had to make different sacrifices. Because you’re right, we didn’t necessarily have a moat to ensure that the capitalist, you know linear model, wasn’t a level playing field. So we had to still play on that field. Yes, but still stick to the principles and culture of what we did. And, you know, thankfully, we have been able to grow. We haven’t taken external investment, which lots of other businesses do. That means that our growth, has it been as big as it could have been? No. Are we happy? Yes. Is it challenging every day? Obviously. But what’s happened is through these other challenging years of externalities, whether that’s the COVID backdrop, you know, the war in Ukraine, alongside all of the other things; energy prices. Because of the way our business was not around doing things as cheap as we possibly could, there were some buffers in there that have supported, you know, our business to come out the other side.
Manda: That’s so interesting. So you got in-built resilience because you weren’t running at the tightest possible margins and the just in time supply chains that ordinary people do.
Manda: Can I ask, just heading back into that, you’re having conversations with your accountants, who clearly are used to the people who run the very narrow margins. Did your accountants begin to get what you were doing? Or did you have to train up a whole new generation of accountants to get it?
Jo: We’re still on that journey. Definitely still on that journey, because, you know, there is decisions that we make within our business that would be classed as financially inept. Yes? And that leads me quite nicely onto the reusable packaging platform, which is Re.
Manda: Good segue.
Jo: Yeah? So when we were looking at the nitty gritty detail of what Beauty Kitchen did, one of the aspects is that we used blue glass. Now blue glass is the most expensive commercially, but it’s also the most expensive environmentally because of the cobalt that’s used and how that’s mined. And that’s another story for another day. But it also isn’t recycled, unless it goes to a specialist recycling facility, which we don’t really have in the UK, and we certainly don’t have it beyond. You can be a citizen scientist in this aspect, because if I take a piece of glass and I say to my eight year old daughter, if I crush this piece of glass down and then build it back up into a new bottle; or, I take this bottle and I wash it and I clean it. Which one uses more energy?
Manda: Okay. Braindead. Yes. Yeah. Okay, so washing is a good thing.
Jo: And that’s really where the reusable packaging that we’ve fallen out of love with, because disposable single use is more profitable.
Manda: Why is it more profitable? Because it costs more to grind it and make it up. But I guess that cost is not being factored in.
Jo: Waste means that you then need to buy it again.
Manda: Yes. Oh, so it’s more profitable for the glass manufacturers. It’s not more profitable for you as a Beauty Kitchen, is it?
Jo: No, no, definitely not. Without a doubt. This is where, when we think of single use and we think of single use materials, so plastic in particular, if we get onto the, you know, the plastic pollution. Again, I don’t need to to let people know that although plastic is symbolic of the mistakes that we’ve made in the past hundred years, you know, from all of this stuff, utilising the planet’s resources and creating a manmade problem, every step of the way. You know, from climate change to pollution to all the interconnectedness, what we’ve done in the last hundred years is siloed everything, to be able to make money. And that money has in lots of occasions, you know, helped human beings. It’s helped women come into work. There’s lots of social impact that that money has created. But what we’ve done is we’ve let both money and manmade products go rogue. Because we’ve not thought what then happens? What world are we trying to create?
Manda: Yes, we haven’t looked down the road. Brilliant and beautiful. Tell us a little bit. Let’s go back to the blue glass, because cobalt obviously hugely problematic and now is being required for lots of other things than making glass. So what did you do in the end? Because one option is not to use blue glass, but the other option is to wash it and bring it back. Tell us about your journey through that.
Jo: Well, what we had to do is we had to… getting reusable packaging is almost the easy part. It’s then the infrastructure of circularity that sits around. So you have the blue glass. You sell it with a product ingredients to someone. You have to get it back, in the first instance. You then have to clean it. You then have to refill it and you have to get it back out to your customer again. And that’s quite a simplified way. But this is what we’ve been working on over the past several years, is engaging with all aspects of that infrastructure, from the packaging manufacturers through to the the retailers, through to the customer that’s going to use the product, through to the reverse logistics, and then through to the bottle washing aspect of it.
Manda: What’s reverse logistics?
Jo: Reverse logistics is how do you get stuff back. So yeah, and there’s a huge opportunity in reverse logistics. If you think of anywhere you shop, whether you shop online for your food mainly, or you shop in store. Whether that’s at independents or your larger retailers. People buy stuff and there’s empty trucks that then, you know, go places. And it’s trying to coordinate all of this efficiencies around re-use. Because all of the efficiencies for single use packaging have had 100 years of efficiencies to be made.
Manda: How you take it away and push it out of sight so that nobody knows it’s there.
Jo: That’s it.
Manda: Right. Throw it in the sea and create the plastic jars that are the size of three times the size of Texas or whatever they are. Okay. And so huge questions arise. You’re probably about to answer these anyway. But for instance, beauty, not really my thing, so I don’t know a lot about it. But when I go into the shops, if I ever do, they’re all in different sized bottles and different shapes and everyone has their own bottle branding. And that seems to me, I’m just imagining you want to reuse these particular bottles, but they’re not all the same size and same shape. You’ve got to sort them, then, without breaking them. It sounds like logistically a total nightmare. How did you go about this?
Jo: Well, the first thing we realised was that Beauty kitchen, we were a small independent business. Yes. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve grown. We’ve had lots of different successes for lots of different reasons. But it was then how do you take what you have incubated in your own business and open source it to others, and get the scale. Because the scale is where the real challenge to single use packaging will come. And that’s where we started to engage with much larger organisations than ourselves. So your Unilever’s of the world, for example, who are a client of ours. Your Asda’s and Marks and Spencers of the world. Yeah? And that’s where once we had the infrastructure and coordinated that infrastructure, getting much bigger organisations to say, Hey, this does work for us, how can we then scale this up and make the changes that are required? So if you think of, you know, personal care and beauty, that this is an industry that is global. So whether you are in China, India, Scotland or South America, everyone bathes, Yeah? In some way. So you don’t necessarily need to be at the far end of the beauty junkie, you know, cosmetics. But we all do the bathing in some format. So it’s similar to fashion and music. Beauty and personal care has the opportunity to be able to engage with people across cultures, across the globe.
Manda: And change the narrative of what you’re doing. Don’t throw stuff away. We’re offering you the stuff that you can reuse. That’s amazing.
Jo: This is it. However, you’ve got a $1 trillion annual packaging industry, of which 99% of that is single use. Now, it’s not all plastic. Single use is different materials, you know, and some of the reusable materials are classed as single use as well. So if I go back to glass, for instance. If you have a glass jar that maybe has a moisturiser or an SPF in it, yeah, for your face or body; that glass jar would still be classed as single use because it’s going into the recycling bin.
Jo: Yeah? So single use is not just plastic. However, plastic is a major problem because it’s not getting recycled. And that’s what we’re here to change. The materials that we use are glass, aluminium and stainless steel. Because it depends on the product type. And coming back to the flexibility or the personalisation, depending on which product, which brand, which retailer, which region of the world, you know. Everyone wants to have their products that stand out, right? So you know, standardisation can be done in a very personal way. And the way that we do it is through labelling. And when you think of a general supermarket, if you go to where the shower gels are, for example, or shampoo, generally the plastic bottles that are there for the shampoo predominantly, the labelling is what gives the brand its identity.
Manda: So you can have a reusable bottle that’s the same size and shape and colour and you just slap a different label on that you can then take off relatively easily, but that doesn’t come off in the shower. That must be an interesting logistical problem. Is that one that you’ve got around or did the rest of the world get around it?
Jo: The thing is, re-use is what we did before we had single use.
Manda: That’s true.
Jo: This is not new tech. The difference being is in 2023, we have digital technology to be able to support the asset tracking and to be able to help create a story around that.
Manda: Tell us how that works then. So I’ve gone and bought my shampoo, used it, got an empty bottle. Now what do I do?
Jo: So you then return it in a variety of different ways. That could be to the point of purchase or back to the retailer, because you’re going to buy another one, or you might buy a different product in another reusable packaging. So it’s around the convenience and accessibility. The interesting thing about the last ten years for me is that the digital age has promised that it will save us time. And I actually think it’s either made our lives busier, if I’m honest. So we have a very short space to be able to shop, yeah? And generally we’re habit forming. So we shop and we buy what we’ve bought before. It doesn’t change that much. However, and that’s where we’ve tried to make it as frictionless as possible. So just coming back to what’s on a shelf, you have the option of a single use or you have the option of a reusable. The only difference is that we ask people to be able to return it, but we are trying lots of different ways to return it. So whether that’s at your local post office, your local convenience store, local petrol station where you bought it in the first place. It’s having as much access as possible. And there is also the option in the future of that collection at home. So if we think of our recycling bins, why could we not have a reusable bin? Because the majority of the recycling is probably glass and aluminium. So rather than it going in there, it’s getting reused rather than recycled.
Manda: In our recycling bin, so our local council has just produced a kind of bin sized bin instead of the little boxes we used to put it in. The glass strikes me that it’s pretty much broken by the time it gets to the centre. If you’ve got a reusable bin, the collection and gathering of it has to not break the glass, I guess? How do you get round that?
Jo: It’s a great question. So what’s happened is packaging companies have been asked to make their packaging… All of the investment, if I take a step back, all of the investment within the circular economy and particularly within recycling, has been directed at reducing the weight of packaging and making it more recyclable. We are now asking the questions of the packaging organisations to make their packaging more robust, more durable, and make it heavier.
Manda: Oh gosh right.
Jo: So it’s a different…and that’s what’s happened is that actually the reason why some of the dents or the broken happens in the recycling, is due to the way that you know, the material has been made for lightness and recyclability. Now some people might say, well, if you’re making the packaging heavier, is that not then counterintuitive because you’ve then got the logistics and the extra transport, etc? We do have a lot of data models that have been verified academically to see that that is a bit of an urban myth. Yes. The weight of packaging within the transport system is almost negligible in terms of the carbon emissions, because you’re reusing it.
Manda: Right. Right. So there’s a massive saving offsets the couple of grams increase in weight and that the truck is.
Jo: That’s it. Yeah. And then the other part is electrification. So if we look at, you know, the world is becoming more electrified and there’s more electric vehicles. All of that logistical change that’s happening throughout the supply chain, will support a lower carbon emission ultimately for reusable packaging. The other thing with reuse is it doesn’t need to just be packaging. In the ideal world, for me, I almost feel that all resources could be leased through a system. So if we take aluminium for example, why is it that it needs to be sold all the way through? When really it could be leased throughout a system to be able to come back again. Because that means that if it’s leased there’s value in that asset.
Manda: Right. Then there’s no incentive to throw it away. You want to bring it back in. How would that work then? Let’s take a hypothetical: Ten years from now, we’ve got that in the system. Let’s say I buy my shampoo now in an aluminium package. How does the leasing system work?
Jo: So the leasing system would be based on a deposit model. So there would be a deposit for the piece of packaging and that’s very dependent on what the material is. But also dependent on how long will you have that packaging for. So if we take coffee cups as an example, we already know and most people would know this, when you buy a takeaway coffee, how quickly do you drink it? And how far from the coffee shop have you moved? It’s not that far. We know that. It’s generally, you know, for the majority, and this is up to 75%. It’s within a 500 yard radius of where you’ve bought that coffee.
Manda: You buy it, you drink it, because that’s why you bought it. Right.
Jo: That’s it. Yeah. So getting that coffee cup back from a re-use system would be very quick. So the deposit would be smaller. Whereas if you’ve got something like a shampoo, that may be that you have that for three months. But it’s also a larger and maybe a less dirty than a coffee cup, possibly because you don’t need heat, yes? So there’s a variety of material science that plays a part in this. So the deposit would be higherfor that, because of the material, but also the time that you’re leasing that packaging for.
Manda: Yes. Yes. That makes huge sense. So you said there’s a $1 trillion global market in packaging. And I looked up global GDP is getting on for $100 trillion. So we’re talking 1% of global GDP, which is flipping huge. And at the moment, I guess a lot of people make a lot of money from selling plastic to other people who then throw it away and it ends up in the oceans causing total chaos. If we are going to move through to a fossil fuel free future, which I guess pretty much everyone is agreed that we have to, except the fossil fuel companies, are you going to get resistance from the people who are currently making themselves very rich, selling you plastic? And if so, how does that resistance manifest? That’s question one. And let’s take ourselves on to Davos. To what extent is this being picked up by the people, the masters of the universe who control actually how we live?
Jo: Yeah, there will be resistance. At the moment, we are under the radar and too small. We’re kind of seen as it’s not going to happen. You’re just an annoyance. And people want disposable products and they want disposable packaging.
Manda: Do they really?
Jo: You know I’m converted. I don’t believe that to be true.
Manda: Give them an option and maybe they don’t want that. They just haven’t had the choice for a lot of time.
Jo: That’s it. So, you know, it’s access and convenience. So there will be resistance as we get bigger. It’s one of the reasons why we have been investment agnostic and not taken external investment. To be able to keep that inclusivity rather than being exclusive and having behaviours driven by other organisations that have a vested interest in what we are doing. We have had support. So we have had grant support from the Scottish Government, Zero Waste Scotland and also the UK Government through the UKRI Innovation Scheme. So we have had support and we know that the change is coming, and we will have to build our resilience to resisting what happens. Because if fossil fuels have to stay in the ground from an energy perspective, that industry will look for other avenues to be able to sell their wares. And the plastic industry, the polymer industry is a driver for that. We already know that plastic production with the current new manufacturing sites that are happening across the globe, that packaging production is set to increase. So we already know that. That is out in the public domain.
Manda: Plastic packaging production, or all packaging?
Jo: All plastics. Of which plastic packaging is huge. And the reason why that’s huge, if we look at the plastic industry in different industries; there is a Greenpeace report and I’ve forgotten the name of, I think it’s called the price of convenience. But I can definitely send you the link. And what they do is they’ve looked at plastics within different industries. So within the building industry, for example, plastic is used for up to 30 years. So when it’s produced for the building industry, it has a long life. And potentially there may be a place for plastic in that particular industry. I don’t know much about the building industry. But when you get to consumer goods and fast moving consumer goods, the plastic is only in use for less than six months. And that’s where the pollution problem comes from, is the fact that it’s not in use for long enough for it to be a viable option.
Manda: Right. Right. And I’m guessing not just the packaging. I’m just thinking, looking around the world, all the plastic we use and the convenience that it offers and how are we going to persuade people that their lives need to be a little bit less convenient if we’re actually going to have an inhabitable planet? That’s a big question. I really like to move to Davos,though, first of all because I am beyond impressed that you were invited to speak at Davos. And it has always seemed to me that Davos was a greenwashing exercise. The fact that they invited you leads me to believe that it’s not wholly a greenwashing exercise. So I’d be really interested to know how your ideas went down and whether you were pushing on an open door, or whether a lot of people took you aside and went, Well, that’s a really nice idea to do on a tiny scale, but it’s never going to happen globally. How was it?
Jo: So I think it was a mixed bag. It was great to be invited. A few years ago, the World Economic Forum set up what’s called uplink. And uplink is to connect innovators to the world’s biggest problems from across the planet. And our business has been on Uplink, and we were part of the circulars, which is the accelerator, which is sponsored by the World Economic Forum. We were one of 17 innovators for the 2022 cohort.
Jo: Sitting within the division that they call transforming consumption. And we were the only re-use business that was in there. And as part of the World Economic Forum’s 2023 Davos, this was around collaboration in a fragmented world. And when it comes to the circular economy and re-use and transforming consumption, we are so far ahead of how you collaborate with many different stakeholders. People who are on the bus with you and understand what you’re trying to do, and people that are not. Because that is the only way to be able to collaborate in this day and age. If you want it to be true active collaboration, which I’m a big action person. It’s OK talking about stuff, but we really need to do things.
Jo: Even if those things don’t work, as long as you learn from them. And we were chosen, there was ten innovators from across the globe that were chosen to come along and speak in the Ideas Hub in the Congress centre. And my presentation was all about re-use and how do we need to join the infrastructure and move ahead with re-use. So to have re-use highlighted on the world stage as part of Davos, gives great credibility to what we are doing. Whether that turns into action. I will find out, you know, over the coming weeks and months with the connections that were made and the approaches. Because there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy from a variety of different stakeholders across different industries. The challenge is that, and this was part of Davos as well, is that there is big disparity between men and women. And I am female and there is unconscious bias and it just happens; and there’s nothing I can do about the fact that I am a woman that’s just what I am.
Manda: Yes. Yes. And the more women are out there saying intelligent things, maybe in the end the unconscious bias will go away. But we don’t have very long. My original theoretical question for people at the start was how long do you think we’ve got? And I realised that was quite a sad question, partly because the people who actually answered said probably a couple of years. And that was really quite distressing because I was thinking, they’d go, Oh, I don’t know, got til the middle of the century, thereabouts. So we are under quite tight time constraints. You talked earlier about citizen science, and I’m quite interested in the work that the Roslin Institute is doing with their citizen science and their Global Oceanic Environmental survey. And they reckon we’ve got till 2045. If we don’t sort out the acidification, the microplastics and the industrial agriculture runoff to the oceans, we have dead sea. And dead sea isn’t a good thing on any level. So time is very tight and people’s unconscious biases are unconscious and we can’t necessarily address them by logic. But we can address them by doing what you’re doing and standing up and saying stuff that resonates. So. At Davos, I’m guessing, and this is purely a guess, and I’d like you to confirm or not, there are the people who wholly get what you’re trying to do and are supportive and are going, yeah, we need to talk, we need to join stuff.
And I’d be really interested in knowing what kinds of people they are. Did you learn anything new that was really interesting? But then there’s going to be the people who are open to the idea but it’s not where they’re at. These are the, I’m assuming, the business as usual people, who think we can carry on as we are, but just with a few more electric vehicles and everything will be fine. And then there are the the totally this is not our stuff; you know, we’re just going to keep mining fossil fuels forever, and somehow we’re going to create technology that absorbs carbon and that will fix everything, because we don’t really understand that there’s a greater picture than just a carbon picture. First, is that a reasonable assessment of the people? And second, did you feel anybody moving from the places that are not where you are, towards where you are, in spite of their unconscious biases?
Jo: So I think that is a broad understanding of the different factions that were represented there. I think that re-use; what we have found is that if we talk in linear terms of how big the opportunity is for people to invest their resources behind us and be supportive, that financial opportunities would come out of that. And that’s why I start with the $1 trillion annual packaging industry, because that’s a big number. And that catches people attention, that if reuse is only 1% of that, but that’s the growing aspect. Because not only does it have to be, because commercially if we think of market conditions, you have an EPR which is called extended producer responsibility, and that’s coming into the UK. It’s already in France and Germany and other regions in the world, but it’s coming into the UK either April 2024 or August. And what that means is if you produce something within packaging, you are then responsible for what happens to that packaging after you’ve sold it. And the way that that happens is you pay a financial something. And I think there was a stat that came out just recently that said it’s going to cost, you know, it’s going to cost something in the region of £2 billion just for the UK. So there’s also things like plastic tax which has started and other elements of taxation, which is helping to level the playing field between what it costs to have a single use piece of packaging and what it costs to have packaging as a service.
And what I mean by that is that it’s leased. So nobody ever owns the packaging, it just gets leased through the system. And we already know that our packaging will be no more than 20% more than the single use packaging. However, you have the carbon benefits. So the more carbon accounting that happens, because you’re leasing the piece of packaging, you will only have to pay your fair share of what that carbon emission is. And we already know that with re-use, you can reduce your emissions between 30 to 70% in comparison to single use packaging, and the number of reuses is between one and five. So we’re not talking hundreds of thousands here. We’re talking really reasonable numbers that people, businesses can save. And I think the more that we engage with policymakers to be able to level the playing field. So, for example, in other industries and in our industry for re-use, you still have to pay VAT. So if you’re hiring, for instance, clothing. So fashion is obviously a huge emitter. If you’re hiring clothing, you still have to pay VAT. Well, it’s not a new product, it doesn’t make sense, does it? So I think there is that bringing together, the World Economic Forum brings together, you know, different stakeholders, government officials, policymakers, NGOs and business. And having all of those stakeholders in the one place for a few days, means you can amplify your message, which is obviously what I was doing.
Manda: Yes. And and really, really good. So I’m thinking 30 to 70% reduction, 1 to 5 reuse. If you could double the amount of reuse to ten, then you’re massively you’re up to 60 to almost 100% reduction. It’s never going to be fully. I’ve become rather more hardcore recently. Partly because I keep listening to Nate Hagan’s podcast and his theory is we are a global energy use of 19 terawatts rolling. So at any given point, somewhere around the globe or the totality of the globe, we’re using 19 terawatts. To get to a survivable future we need to get to five. And that the reductions are not going to be even across the globe, because in the West we use 15,000 kilowatt hours per year. In Yemen, it’s 69 and the Gaza Strip is 0.1. There’s quite a steep fall off between our energy use and the energy use of the least energy extractive of the world. So if we’re going to get to our five, we in the West have to really drop our energy use. If we were to think forward 15 to 20 years. Can you see a future where all packaging is reused? And if so, how do we help, we the listeners, help get to that maximal reuse future?
Jo: I think we would never get to 100% reuse. However, if we look at the single use packaging, the innovation and investment over the last hundred years that have changed the way that we interact with packaging. If we can divert some of that resource, whether that’s financial from an investment perspective. And when I mean investment, you know, I’m not talking necessarily equity investment for the everyday person. Everything you buy, you’re investing in those companies that you buy from. And that’s a really simple way of investing, because, you know, I don’t have any investments. You know, I’m fortunate that I live in the UK and that we have pension schemes. So that would be the, you know, the only investment that I have. But everything I buy, I’m investing in all of those companies, Yeah? So if I take Apple as an example. You know, I have an iPhone, I’m investing in Apple. So if Apple aren’t doing the things that I think they should be doing yet, I’m spending my money.
Jo: And people have to… That’s where that citizen scientist isn’t just around, you know, beach cleans or understanding bee populations or, you know, all of those little hobbyist pieces. It is hard cash as well. What you spend your money on is scientifically data, that is telling those big industries that you still want to spend your money in single use packaging.
Manda: But how would we… I could stop buying iPhones. I could maybe try and find a phone that isn’t in single use packaging. Are there Fairphones in reusable packaging?
Jo: Fairphones are modular. And don’t get me wrong, Apple are coming up with, they are moving forward, because that is an indicator that people…so they are probably further ahead. But it’s that way of us being able to do that. So coming back to reusable packaging, it could never be 100%. However, if we can drive change and innovation, yes, reuse can help with those numbers. You talked about the differences between the waste and then the Gaza Strip in terms of energy use. This is similar with water stewardship as well. So in Egypt, for example, water is reused between 30 and 50% of the time because they have to. This data point came from Suez, the chief exec of Suez at Davos. So this is real data. And the the reuse of water in France is 1%.
Manda: Wow. And what is it in the UK? Even less than that, because we’re not even as hot as France.
Jo: Just an indicator of we have used so many resources that were just inefficient. That actually even just the efficiencies of some of the changes. You know, Scotland doesn’t have a problem with water.
Manda: This is true.
Jo: However, are we efficient in understanding how we could reduce our energy, because it’s related to water stewardship. And this is where the interconnectivity of human beings with the planet, whether that is, you know, you love bees or butterflies or flowers or growing vegetables, through to reusable packaging like me. It can be anything. Just have that curiosity to wonder what happens next? Do I really need to use pesticides, you know, is Round Up the best idea? I love flowers and I want them to grow in my garden. But what’s the impact that I’m having because I use something else? And I just think if we can unlock curiosity, human beings are the most creative, wonderful beings on this planet and we are all curious. Get people to be more curious.
Manda: That’s glorious. Glorious! Thank you. Yes, I think we just found the title for the podcast, Unlocking Curiosity. That’s fantastic. So just with a few minutes towards the end. People can come to Beauty Kitchen and you have a wonderful array of things. It looks fantastic. And I’ve been watching things on my Facebook feed recently. I shouldn’t be doing Facebook, but anyway. Of things like buying shampoo powder that you make up with your own water so you’re not shipping a great big… You know, you just get a little paper sachet and you make it up in whatever bottle you’ve got, which seems like a jolly good idea. With the people that you’re connecting with; your partners in this, people who really get it. If our Citizen Scientist listeners wanted an effortless way of knowing, so they come to you for their beauty products. Who else is doing re-using things that we could begin really to support? Because as you say, where we put our money is where we put our votes, how can we actively vote in favour of other re-using products and brands?
Jo: So in, in personal care and beauty, I want a big shout out to lush cosmetics. Lush are the world leaders in naked packaging. So they do so many products that are not in packaging. Now it doesn’t work for everything and it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but they are great. You’ve then got your formulator. So if we look at Weleda and Neil’s Yard as two examples. Of Neil’s Yard being a UK based organisation, Weleda are worldwide; they are Swiss, but their regenerative approach to their formulations is again really important, because there’s no microplastics. So plastic is not just packaging macro, it is also micro and that’s just as important, what goes down the drain.
Manda: Yes. And the GOES report, the three things that are killing the ocean: it’s acidification, microplastics and industrial runoff from agriculture. And the microplastics are killing the plankton as fast as anything else. So, yes, I didn’t know. No Microplastic. I’m guessing Beauty Kitchen has no microplastics either. So whatever you buy, buy stuff with no microplastics. And that’s not on the packaging. It doesn’t say we have microplastics in here.
Jo: Because it’s legal. At the moment, it’s legal. So I have been involved with the EU, you know, view on microplastics. I’ve got a call tomorrow again, we work closely with Plastics Foundation, which is based in the Netherlands, and that NGO was instrumental in getting the ban on microbeads. Which were slightly larger pieces of plastic that were in things like toothpaste, for example, and body scrubs. And they have been instrumental in directing the EU policy on microplastics. So I’m I’m very involved in that side of things. And there is true alternatives. And so I think it’s just having again, it comes back to this curiosity of, you know, what is in here? But sometimes it’s a bit difficult to know where to go, as the authority. Because sometimes you think, well, a business is trying to sell me stuff as well. So it’s trying to just keep that balance and we’re all busy. So I also think having a shout out to Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund, they have lots of ways for people to engage and understand what’s in their products and maybe some alternatives. And they’re giving a, you know, an independent viewpoint. You’ve also got the ethical consumer, which is both an online and also a publication that can be print. And the ethical consumer is based here in the UK, but they do loads of in depth, but really easy to digest what’s going on ethically. Not just ingredients but wider issues. And then with regards to re-use, I think fashion is a huge driver. So, you know, get involved with fashion brands that want you to return your clothing, so that you can get them reused or repaired. So rather than just buying something because it’s cheap, because you can then afford to throw it away.
Manda: Right. Right. And these brands exist? Again, fashion not really my thing. There are people you can go to who want you to bring it back?
Jo: A big one would be Patagonia. And yes, they do use polyester. Yes, but recycled polyester. And again, as a purist, people would say, well, that’s still… But it’s a step. It’s these stepping stones. If you think of having a zero waste or a waste free world. If I say waste free world and you think about it, it’s like, oh, that’s like a huge – if I look at my day, that’s a huge jump. If I then make it into a ladder, where it’s have reusable shopping bags, reusable coffee cup, reusable water bottle, start there. Then you open your curiosity to what’s next? Where do my jeans and denims come from? And should I really be buying the ones at £9.99.
Manda: Right, that were made in a sweatshop by, you know, young women who have no choice. My partner was involved with these things for a while, and we discovered that the Chinese word, there was a docile. There’s a word that’s always used by the people who run these sweatshops, and it’s always young women, often single with children who have no choice. And they spend their days in these horrible factories making your clothes, because they’re docile, because they have to look after their kids. Which. Yeah, okay. So not to engage with that.
Jo: Yeah, but it’s finding ways with those organisations to get them to change. And that’s where for me, third party verification marks like B Corp can be huge, because they help to then generate other industries or get those companies to do better. Because those women still need an income, they still need to be looked after. And that’s why stepping stones, but doing it quicker is the way that I think the world should work.
Manda: This is so grand. It’s so amazing to find someone with this degree of enthusiasm and a sense of progress of how we get from here to there, where there is where we need to be. It’s glorious. We are at our hour. Jo, this has been amazing. Is there anything that you wanted to say as one last thing? I think you’ve been giving us, I have to say, solid gold all the way through. But anything in closing that you’d like to say to everybody?
Jo: No, I’d just like to say thanks for listening. And if anybody wants to have a chinwag about anything re-use, please just come and connect.
Manda: Fantastic. I will put links in the show notes to everything that you said and ways to find you. Jo, it’s been such a pleasure and good luck in all that you’re doing. It feels like this is the future. Is people like you thinking differently and going outside the box and more power to the women of Scotland. Thank you so much.
Jo: Thank you.
Manda: And that’s us for another week. Wasn’t that grand? Huge thanks to Jo for making the time to come on the podcast, in what I think must be an extraordinarily busy life. But also for all that she’s doing and for the enthusiasm and integrity and vision that she’s bringing to changing parts of the world most of us don’t think about. I certainly don’t think about packaging, other than trying to make sure that we can recycle everything that has the capacity to be recycled. But understanding that we could be reusing, we could be washing things and taking them somewhere safe so that they can be properly washed out and reused. We do it with our milk bottles, so why are we not doing it with absolutely everything? So my mission from this I use Georganics, toothpaste powder. It comes in a little glass jar. No more plastics, no more palm oils, no shipping water around the world. But it’s not a reusable glass jar. So I’m about to write to them, put them in touch with Re and say, Really, could we not be reusing this? And we could all be doing this. Everything that we use, we could be reusing the packaging. We could be using the voting power of our pounds or our dollars or our euros or whatever currency is current to where you are. To change things.
So as Jo says, maybe we just all need to subscribe to Ethical Consumer and work out how we can do stuff better. In the end, I think we need to stop consuming. We need to only be using stuff that is actually all regenerative. But as she said, that’s a huge step to take and we need to break it down into smaller steps and make the ladder something that doesn’t feel too daunting. So if you want to make any changes in your world this week, have a look at the things that you use every day and see if you can find ways to bring them into a more regenerative cycle.
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