We recently chatted with Lisa Odell from Plastic Free HK about her business, life and living zero waste in Hong Kong!
How long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I can’t believe it but I’ve lived in HK for over 10 years! I came from the US back in 2009 to have an adventurous year abroad, and on the third day, I met my now husband Jonathan. Sometimes life just has way more adventure planned than you could ever imagine! Two kids, two cats and one business later, we are still here and loving it. The beaches and water of Sai Kung are definitely our most favourite thing about living here and we try to spend as much time in nature as we can. We will mostly relocate back to the states in the next couple of years, but for now, this is home.
When did you start Plastic-Free HK and why?
PFHK started to take form in my mind in January of 2016. My firstborn was nearing two and I was finally coming out of the baby haze and starting to long for more. By meditating on what I wanted for my future, I realised I craved to live more sustainably and that Hong Kong did not offer the things I needed in order to do this. I saw a hole in the market and thought I would try to be part of the solution by making sustainable living more accessible and possible in Hong Kong and beyond. We opened our e-shelves in November of 2016 and it was well received and quickly took off!
What’s changed since you started the business?
Green-washing has become a thing, where companies make a product seem more sustainable and eco-friendly than it actually is, so we have to be very mindful and careful when selecting products to stock and make sure they are the real deal. There is also a bit more competition out there, so we’ve had to get really clear about who we are and how we are different from the rest of the pack.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently in your business?
I would have laid a better foundation, in terms of a business plan and accounting support. I had no idea how quickly things would grow and I wasn’t really ready for it. This cost me unnecessarily, but as a trade-off, I learned so much in the process. I’ve been involved in every single aspect of my business and I know what goes into every part of it, and I know this will serve me well in the long run. Sometimes the only way to learn is to go through it.
What have you enjoyed most about the business?
Hands down, I love the creative outlet. I love building the brand and bringing to life what I see in my mind’s eye. I wake up in the morning, and most days, I can’t wait to get to work so I can make my vision a reality!
What’s been the biggest challenge in your business?
Learning how to scale the business and continually bring it to the next level has been the biggest challenge. I’ve always longed for a business mentor/consultant, who has walked this road before, believes in what I’m doing, and can help show me the next steps.
The most innovative plastic-free product you’ve found? Personal favourites/most used?
I absolutely LOVE my cleaning brushes. I think they are such useful products and eliminate so much disposable plastic in the process. The water bottle brush, toilet brush + stand and dustpan and brush set are my top three favs. I use them every day and they look gorgeous while not in use.
Do you have a team at PlasticFree HK?
Yes, I have two people currently on our team, in addition to myself. One Sai Kung mom helps with pictures, design and IG and another Sai Kung mom helps me with managing the office and fulfilling orders. They are both right here in town and can literally walk to our office, which I find helps loads with keeping the machine running smoothly. I also love working with other fellow moms, as we can relate to each other even more. I’m still needing more help, but as stated above, knowing how to grow is a major learning curve for me.
What’s been the most effective marketing for your business?
Hong Kong Moms Facebook Group! Ha! In all seriousness, word of mouth from satisfied customers has probably been our greatest marketing tool, but Facebook ads is proving successful as well.
Do you live zero waste/plastic free yourself?
I do my best but we are definitely not a 100% zero waste home. I think it’s actually impossible to live completely sustainably here in Hong Kong. There are just too many roadblocks we haven’t found solutions for yet, like composting sites and plastic-free produce. We’re getting there though! Every day it seems to get better.
What’s your top tip for living more sustainably in Hong Kong?
If living sustainably interests you, start small and go from there! First, try to eliminate all single-use plastics from your life, especially the top five: water bottles, straws, bags, coffee/tea cups and take away items like cutlery/polystyrene/etc. These are the big offenders and if you can let these go from your life, the world will benefit greatly. After that, take a look at your home and choose one room to tackle first. The bathroom is always an easy and effective place to start. Change things out one at a time and go from there. Every single change matters, so don’t be disheartened by the magnitude of this issue, yet rather be encouraged by the changes that make a difference.