Most of us are aware of the damage plastic bags cause to the environment. But what many people might not know is that the humble dish cloth is also responsible for its fair share of pollution.
Not only are traditional dish cloths and sponges usually sold heavily packaged in plastic, they also contain microplastics that end up in our oceans.
But now, one Tauranga-based company is trying to change that - by offering Kiwis a sustainable alternative to synthetic dish cloths.
Good Change is a company determined to be a "vehicle for doing good", not just by selling sustainable products but also by giving back to communities and inspiring young people to be more aware of how they can protect our seas.
Good Change is this month's Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.
Stine Smith, who founded the company with her friend Kristy Hunter, says the pair were motivated to start the business after visiting the supermarket one day and noticing that although there were plenty of eco-friendly cleaning spray products being sold, when it came to dish cloths it was a completely different story.
"Everything's wrapped in plastic, the products are synthetics - they're all pretty much based on petroleum and plastic particles," Smith says.
As a result of that realisation Smith and Hunter decided it was up to them to provide an alternative. And right from the start, the pair knew exactly what they were after.
"We wanted a product where we knew we weren't spreading microplastics into the ocean but also one when you unwrap it you don't have a lot of plastic that can't be recycled," Smith says.
Originally from Denmark, Smith remembered a compostable cloth that has long been popular in Scandinavia.
"I knew these cloths from back home, because they were invented in Sweden 70 years ago," she says.
"We grew up using these and I knew they were compostable but I suppose I never thought about it because that was just what we were using."
After seeing the lack of options on the market here, Smith knew the Swedish-invented product would be just what Kiwis were after.
The patented material is only made in Europe so Smith and Hunter import the cloths from Germany and then add their own designs to them.
Made from wood pulp and cotton, the cloths last around six to nine months and decompose in the garden when it's time to get rid of them. They are also sold without plastic packaging.
And though their eco-friendly nature is the most important element, Smith says it's also important that the cloths look good, with designs that are "modern and fresh".
"We want to make sure that the people who don't buy for eco reasons but for design reasons still want to pick them up," she says.
Another key focus of the business is giving back. For each pack of cloths sold, the company donates clean water to families in Cambodia, via a simple water filter. It's also involved in organising beach clean-ups and education campaigns here in New Zealand.
Smith says the company has a vision of eliminating the use of plastics in all households across the country and she and Hunter are determined to use the business as a "vehicle for doing good".
"One thing that was really important for us is we wanted to create something that took all the plastic away, in terms of the plastics and the microfibers that get released when you use all the synthetic products," says Smith.
"But we also wanted a company that we could use to generate some momentum in the market for doing good - specifically for raising awareness around clean water and plastic in the oceans."
Good Change's cloths are currently sold in around 200 stores and supermarkets across the country, as well as on the company's website.
Smith says she hopes as the business continues to grow it will be able to increase its capacity to give - helping more people get access to clean water and learn about the importance of protecting our environment.
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