I could never have imagined the massive impact The Rubbish Whisperer would have on Kiwis’ plastic consumption. To celebrate our five-year milestone, I thought it’s a good time to reflect on how I started my plastic-free journey and how far we have come in such a short time...
By Helen Rupp, founder and CEO of The Rubbish Whisperer
Since starting The Rubbish Whisperer five years ago, I am constantly blown away by our ability to start over. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a ‘greenie’ or have been using loads of plastic, every morning presents an opportunity to start fresh and try again. Thanks to this sentiment, we have sold over 30,000 reusable produce bags, thereby saving 16 million plastic bags from being used.
In 2009, I had my own “fresh start” moment. I had the opportunity to live in Nepal and Bangladesh for a year where I was involved with working in the Botanic Gardens in Kathmandu. I was assisting to digitise their plant collection. In Bangladesh, my job was a little different. I was instructing teachers on how to use computers, which was rewarding in its own way.
Two different countries and experiences, but there was one thing that they both had in common. There was the massive amount of rubbish on their roads and rivers visible to me every day. I realised that in New Zealand we were fortunate to have our rubbish conveniently taken away every two weeks, but at the same time we are never confronted with just how much waste we produce.
After this realisation, I knew that I needed to make a change.
Avoiding palm oil was my first step. However, this was proving to be very difficult and time-consuming: I was having to read every single ingredient label in the supermarket. I then decided to try and cut out as much everyday plastic waste as I could.
In 2010, while pregnant with my daughter, I had time to research the environmental impact of plastic and how to reduce my own waste. There was a lot of information available on the internet, however, not everyone is likely to have the time or interest to find it all.
The Rubbish Whisperer was first created in 2013 as an information platform, where I could gather all the research I had done into one place for the convenience of those interested in finding out more about reducing plastic waste.
It was around this time I began to make the first reusable produce bags. I would bring these along to talks that I would do at schools and homes on reducing household waste.
As the anti-plastic waste trend grew, more people were offering talks on reducing waste and doing a fantastic job drawing attention to the plastic problem. However, not many businesses were providing simple solutions for plastic-free alternatives.
In 2014, I uploaded the first products to The Rubbish Whisperer website, which were my handmade reusable produce bags, bamboo toothbrushes, beeswax food wraps and snack pockets.
From there, The Rubbish Whisperer has only grown and grown. What started off as a simple research and ideas-based company turned into an action platform where the everyday person could actively change their plastic habits, without having to go out of their way to do so.
One small idea flourished and has now enabled others to make a positive impact in their lives.
Here are just a few of the things we’re proudest of:
- We offer a living wage to 13 woman.
- We’ve made over 30,000 reusable produce bags, saving over 16 million plastic bags.
- Over $100,000 has been injected into the New Zealand economy by making our reusable produce bags here in New Zealand.
- We’ve replaced over 1 million plastic straws with paper ones.
- We’ve donated a portion of profits to environmental funds including Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust and Squawk Squad.
It has been quite a journey and I am always learning as I continue my mission to try and reduce the plastic waste in New Zealand and the rest of the world.
Here’s to the next five years!