With Plastic-Free July in full swing, Laura and Liza had the chance to chat with Brianne West, founder of Ethique. A sustainably-focused business, Ethique makes toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath melts, and of course, soap—all in beauty bar form. Brianne chatted about Ethique’s origin story, the responsibility of both consumers and brands to make sustainable choices, and how we can all strive to be plastic-free.
Why Plastic-Free Is So Important
Consumers are often a bit apathetic towards plastic. We’re always told that most plastic is recyclable—especially with the recycling triangle on the bottom of every plastic container. In reality, only 9% of the plastic used each day is recycled.
Once plastic hits the environment—whether out someone’s car window or left behind on the beach—it begins to break down into microscopic pieces. Plastic is not biodegradable, so the microplastics end up causing environmental damage. Microplastics end up in food, especially fish, and are known to cause dangerous health outcomes.
Brianne points out that plastic is useful and necessary in some industries. The worst use of plastic is single-use packaging. It’s completely avoidable and unnecessary, but without a cheaper solution, companies are hard-pressed to change. Some companies, such as Ikea with the biodegradable mushroom packaging, are moving towards more sustainable alternatives.
Although single-use packaging will never be entirely eliminated from store shelves, Brianne thinks that there are ways to reduce its impact on the environment. A minimal, 1 cent tax on each plastic unit could be used to build proper plastic recycling facilities in-country.
Brianne also states that product stewardship would be a useful policy to implement. Product stewardship is the idea that a company is responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, including the packaging. This solution means that consumers can bring packaging back to the store or brand, and the company is responsible for recycling it.
A Plastic-Free Future
Brianne’s biggest tip for using less plastic is to think about each purchase you make. If you go out for coffee and forget your reusable cup, don’t get the coffee in a takeaway cup. If you’re picking up groceries, what can you put in your cart without a plastic bag or clamshell? It’s hard to get plastic out of your life, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Going plastic-free can be overwhelming, but don’t get frustrated if you can’t follow every single plastic-free solution or tip out there. It’s impossible to be a perfect consumer. That’s why we at Brightly are so passionate about the small, everyday actions. If we all do just a couple of things differently, the world will be a better place overall.
Within the past few years, more consumers have begun looking for ethical and sustainable products. “People just want more from their brands,” says Brianne. As more and more people are becoming passionate about the environment, it’s exciting to think about a future where considering the ethical and sustainable stance of a brand will be the first thing on consumers’ list, rather than the last.
Brianne started Ethique when she was 22. Although she had started and sold two previous businesses, she wanted to start a company with a purpose.
One of Brianne’s previous companies was a cosmetics company. Through starting and running her cosmetics company, she learned about the wasteful and often dirty supply chain in cosmetics. She knew that her next company had to have a positive environmental impact.
Ethique was born out of this idea. All of Ethique’s products are 100% plastic-free and have been from the very beginning. Instead of selling liquid products in plastic bottles, Ethique’s products are all sold as solid bars. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, and even pet shampoo are part of Ethique’s solid beauty bar product line.
Mintasy was Ethique’s first product and is still one of its best sellers. It was essential to Brianne that it was an authentic shampoo bar, rather than a soap-based shampoo bar. Soap has a high PH level, which damages hair. If you’ve ever felt your hair was dry or covered in a residue after using a shampoo bar, it was soap-based.
In addition to making products that are properly formulated with natural ingredients, Ethique is 100% plastic-free, carbon-neutral, cruelty-free/vegan, and verifies that all of the workers producing their raw ingredients are paid fairly. It’s a conscious and sustainable company.
Ethique has grown from a 32-bar daily production in Brianne’s kitchen to 150,000 bars per day at plastic-free factories. Ethique is now expanding production to North America, too. 93% of Ethique’s carbon footprint is due to international freight. Partnering with a factory in North America will drastically reduce their carbon footprint.
Ethique offsets their carbon footprint, including a double offset on any travel by Brianne and her team. Brianne says, “Offsets are not the solution—I am more than aware of that. But what they are is a time-buying device. They help us figure out a way to combat this. Unfortunately, the system that we are in does not allow us to live a carbon-neutral life at this point.”
Rather than buying offsets to plant trees, Ethique invests its offset funds in renewable energy. Brianne believes that it’s critical to use those funds effectively to build more infrastructure.