Home is Where The Plastic Is

Bethany Gaffey

If you were to stand in your kitchen and tally all of the plastics in sight, what number would you get to? What if you opened all the cabinets and drawers? Plates, cups, forks, knives, straws, food wrap, garbage bags, pasta strainers, cooking utensils... Plastic, plastic, PLASTIC! What about your bedroom and your laundry room? Why are our clothes hangers made of plastic? Why do we use dryer sheets once before throwing them away? What if these objects we use time and time again were made of materials that could last time and time again?

Enter the eco-mission of New Zealand-based company CaliWoods. Founded by a surfing, travel-loving kiwi, “CaliWoods exists because we believe there’s a better way to do things. We aren’t perfect, but we are working hard to make a sustainable life easier and exciting through awesome eco products, fresh ideas and motivating information.” Transforming your home into an eco-friendly oasis is no easy feat. Fortunately, we were able to chat with CaliWoods founder (Shay Lawrence) to get some tips and tricks on plastic-free and sustainable homeware.

Hi Shay! Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your inspiration for founding CaliWoods.

Cool, hi team! Well I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand and to sum myself up I would say I’m a surfer, travel-lover, and a kiwi trying to inspire more sustainable changes. I had a nature-filled childhood, which gave me a deep appreciation for the natural world. This drives me everyday – wanting to protect what I love. After spending six amazing years traveling to the most isolated pockets of the ocean, it was hard to ignore the plastic pollution that followed me everywhere. Amongst the turquoise water and palm trees were bottle caps, food packets, straws…plastic wherever you looked. Coming home, I was super motivated to do something about it and that’s when CaliWoods was born!

Shay Lawrence holding the product that started it all: reusable straws. Photo: CaliWoods

Shay Lawrence holding the product that started it all: reusable straws. Photo: CaliWoods

When did you start CaliWoods and how has it grown since then?

I started CaliWoods 2 years ago simply with a jar of reusable straws at a local market in Auckland. The response to the product was SO cool! It instantly resonated with people and communicated how widespread, and kind of crazy, our single-use plastic consumption is. I realised that I was onto something: having a product that instantly appeals as a plastic replacement AND something that encourages people to live more sustainably. I’m so stoked on how far CaliWoods has come, with over 300 retail stores in New Zealand to date and multiple eco product lines. Our ability to use the business as a force for good – inspiring sustainable lifestyles – is really satisfying.

What do you look for when selecting a vendor for products on your website?

The website mainly supplies CaliWoods products, but there are a few other select brands on there too. Mostly just that the product itself is useful, replacing a plastic alternative or really serving a unique purpose (i.e. the microfibre-capturing Cora Ball). The brand’s story and genuine purpose of being in the social enterprise/brand-for-good is an equally important part of their product offering.

The Cora Ball, which captures microfibres from the wash, that can be found on CaliWoods’ website. Photo: CaliWoods

The Cora Ball, which captures microfibres from the wash, that can be found on CaliWoods’ website. Photo: CaliWoods

What makes a product sustainable, and what makes a product eco-friendly?

A product that can still be used for years to come, without having a detrimental impact on the environmental at the end of life, is sustainable. Eco-Friendly products are ones that are kinder on our environment than alternatives - from the materials, production, packaging, shipping, use, and end of life. Thus, sustainable products are eco-friendly, but the ideal situation is to have eco-friendly products that are also sustainable! It’s important to note here that perfect products don’t really exist - the most sustainable options are the items you already have!

How do you feel about selling products online versus having a physical store that people can make purchases at? Do you have any methods for reducing waste during shipping and/or packaging?

Although we love face-to-face interactions and meeting our customers, having an online presence has allowed us to spread further and try out new products easily. We mainly sell to retail stores and work hard to build relationships with them to ensure they are up to date with our mission, current events and goals so they can pass these messages on. When we ship, either to online customers or to our retailers, it is always plastic-free. Although it’s a real increase in cost for us, CaliWoods is serious about being plastic-free, from the product itself to the recycled packaging paper and tape!

Why do you think people so often choose plastic items for their homeware?

Plastic is convenient for being durable, light weight, and long lasting, especially when it comes to food products. Realistically, walking into a supermarket your options are limited. You need to know where to shop and where to get certain items package-free. It takes a little bit of adjusting but in the end it’s SO satisfying knowing that you are doing something for the planet, and that you’re part of a movement that is bigger than convenience.

What do consumers need to look out for when shopping for eco-friendly goods?

Hmm, there are a few things:

  • Packaging: Can you get that chocolate in a home-compostable wrapper, or better yet, in bulk with your own container?

  • End of Life: What will happen with this product when you are done with it?

  • Food Miles: Are you supporting a local company?

  • Brand: What does the company stand for? Do you approve of what they are doing with your money?

Not one company or product will tick all of the boxes. But as consumers, we need to sometimes spend that extra dollar or two; it’s a vote for the type of world you want to live in.

How would you respond to someone who is concerned about the longevity, quality, and price of a sustainable or plastic-free product?

I would say consider what you already have first and foremost. Are you buying a sustainable product just to buy it or is there something you already own that will do the same job? The most sustainable items are the ones you already have. Waiting to buy an item is another good tip – that means you really have a need for it! When you go to buy, consider the questions above and try to support a brand whose goals you align with.

What are your best selling products and what do you hope to add to your store?

Our Stainless Steel Pegs are one of the latest additions and have been super popular so far. We have just released a Stainless Hot and Cold Tumbler for smoothies and coffee, which directly supports ocean conservation. And I’m looking forward to adding a few more replacements for single-use plastic by the end of the year!

CaliWoods’ plastic-free clothing pegs. Perfect for if your plastic ones break and need replacing. Photo: CaliWoods

CaliWoods’ plastic-free clothing pegs. Perfect for if your plastic ones break and need replacing. Photo: CaliWoods

Can you leave us with one last piece of advice for anyone struggling with the concept of how their personal actions can make a difference?

Every small change you make contributes to an overall collective impact. Your actions make a difference and it’s better that we are ALL making small changes rather than a few of us going completely zero waste. Take on this challenge by changing one thing at a time, and only moving onto the next change when you have formed a new habit.

Making your homeware plastic free starts with a few small changes. Photo: Pixabay

Making your homeware plastic free starts with a few small changes. Photo: Pixabay

Following my interview with Shay, I was inspired to do a little at-home experiment. I started in my kitchen, then moved into the laundry room and finally ended in my bedroom, making a list of the plastic items I found. After doing a little research (and getting some inspiration from CaliWoods), I brainstormed some eco-friendly alternatives. As it turns out, there are a lot more options than I could have ever imagined! If I wrote them all down the list would be endless, so here are a few key examples of my discoveries.

Screen Shot 2019-06-09 at 20.50.38.png

Knowing that good things take time and considering my personal budget, I have elected to start my homeware transitions by replacing items over time as needed. For example, once my last piece of plastic wrap has been used, I will purchase a plastic-free food wrap. When a plastic item breaks, I’ll purchase a non-plastic replacement. As time goes on, I can invest in more expensive and long-term solutions, but for now I’m starting small. And you can too! Keep following our Plastic Not Fantastic campaign to learn about more inspiring companies like CaliWoods and more compelling reasons to transform the way we literally and figuratively consume plastics today.

Want to learn more about CaliWoods? Read up on their blog here, check out their products here, and follow them on Instagram @caliwoods_eco

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

Want to become part of a community striving to reduce their plastic use? Join our Facebook group