There’s a growing cohort of Sydneysiders mindful of the impact plastic has on the environment, and each day we diligently sort our eligible jars, bottles and other used containers into the appropriate recycling bins. But once council picks them up it’s often hard to know if they are going to landfill or are actually being recycled.
Concern for our growing reliance on single-use plastics – particularly during the pandemic – and the challenges with that next step in the recycling chain has led one Alexandria resident on a path to change the world (or at least her part of Sydney).
“There isn’t much transparency about what happens after we put our plastics into the yellow bin,” says Danling Xiao, co-founder of Reco, a small Sydney startup setting out to reduce our reliance on plastic packaging. “Less than 30 per cent of our plastic waste is actually recycled, and it uses a lot of energy and chemicals to recycle it.”
Reco’s solution is to offer household cleaning products in reusable glass jars, hand delivered by a single courier within a small pocket of Sydney that stretches from Alexandria to the outer edges of the inner west.
Xiao explains that while most glass is infinitely recyclable (“plus it takes 75 per cent less energy to recycle glass than to create it from raw materials”), she believes it’s possible to remove the need to recycle the jars at all by creating a system that allows people to reuse them. In fact, Reco rewards you for it. Prepare your empty Reco jars for collection when the driver ferries you your next batch, and get $2 off your next order.
Reco’s mission, Xiao says, goes far beyond the jars and their delivery, though – it’s also what’s in the jars. She says her products provide a far more sustainable alternative to the chemical-packed products found on supermarket shelves.
Free of toxins, carcinogens and allergens, the dishwashing and laundry powder that form Reco’s initial product range – both beautifully scented with pure lemon myrtle oil – are produced without petrochemicals and are fully biodegradable.
The products are made by Simplyclean, a Northern Rivers-based company producing all-natural household cleaning products with an emphasis on both health and sustainability. Xiao says the partnership was inspired by an impromptu discussion at a wellness expo about the companies’ mutual ambitions to reduce waste and minimise the use of toxins in the home. “It’s a very natural marriage,” she says. “I’m not a chemist, so I’d rather leave that to the experts.”
On the short-term roadmap for Reco is the development of new products, including dishwasher liquid, body wash and, given their sudden ubiquity, hand sanitiser and antibacterial spray. In fact, Xiao says, there has never been a more important time for a strategic shift in attitude toward packaging and logistics. According to a May study by US analysts Markets and Markets, plastic packaging use will increase by 5.5 per cent this year alone.
“Five-and-a-half per cent feels like a small number, but when you look at it on a global scale, it’s terrifying.”
As for Reco’s geographical expansion plans, Xiao is hesitant. While she is open to creating serialised distribution hubs once the inner-west operation has proven successful, her team’s focus is on nurturing their own community.
“This is a local project. I believe being part of the local economy builds a stronger community, and I’d rather focus on doing that than trying to become a global company that distributes products everywhere.”