Eco Party Box: Make your parties fun and eco-friendly
Plastic straws, paper plates and cups, balloons, and glitter - our children's conventional birthday parties are an environmentally conscious person's worst nightmare! Once the party ends, all this junk doesn't merely disappear; instead making its way to ever-growing landfills and oceans impacting the health, and marring the beauty of the latter. One Adelaidean couple, Jonathan and Tina Hart are striving to change the status quo. The couple's unique enterprise Eco Party Box, the first of its kind in South Australia, sells environmentally friendly party supplies including compostable tableware, and plates and bowls made of bamboo pulp, areca palm leaf and sugarcane.
In conversation with TAL, Jonathan speaks about the incident that sparked the Eco Party Box idea, the challenges the couple faced while starting the business, and plans for the future.
Before talking about your business, please tell us something about both of you.
I am 41 and was born in Cardiff, Wales but raised in Adelaide. I am an award-winning print journalist and radio announcer. I like chilling with my kids and researching various interesting topics. My wonderful wife Tina is 42. She was born and raised in Adelaide, is a qualified naturopath, and loves reading, writing and roller derby.
From journalism to creating eco-friendly products, that’s quite a change. What prompted this journey?
In 2011 we were celebrating our third child's (we have four kids) first birthday. Tina was searching for eco-friendly party supplies but couldn't get them all in one place, and they arrived late despite giving plenty of notice. That incident left us wondering how convenient it would be to have one shop or a single service that would provide all eco-friendly party supplies. And with that, the Eco Party Box idea was born.
What does an Eco Party Box comprise? And how do you ensure that they are all eco-friendly?
We have party boxes in various sizes and sell plates, cups, bowls, straws, cutlery, skewers, etc. Our products are biodegradable, compostable and are made from bamboo pulp, sugarcane, areca palm leaf, tapioca and paper. They are also suitable for the home compost if the plates are cut into smaller pieces.
Everything that goes into an eco party box is sustainable for the earth - apart from a small amount of plastic packaging, which at this stage we can do little to avoid. Instead, we collect the plastic bags when we repackage and take them to our local recycle bin. We repack our plates, cups and cutlery from larger packs into brown paper bags and label them; this imparts a rustic charm to the packaging.
We are just about to roll out a composting service whereby we accept the used compostable tableware from our customers and have it composted in a commercial composting facility.
Most SA councils will accept our compostable tableware in their green bins but sadly this is not the case for the rest of Australia, and hopefully, we will be able to meet this growing need.
We research and get written confirmation from suppliers and manufacturers to ensure our disposable tableware products are compliant with commercial composting requirements. We provide not just pre-packed party boxes, but also compostable tableware that can be purchased in smaller amounts so that our clients can purchase just the number of boxes they require.
Our dedication to customer service and ensuring that all our supplies reach our clients on time make a huge difference in customer satisfaction. We are affordable too, and our pricing is competitive in the marketplace. Our shipping cost is $12 and we offer occasional free shipping promotions. Also, when someone subscribes to our newsletters, they get a $10 voucher to spend on their first purchase in our store.
Where do you source your products from?
Our tableware comes from China, India and Taiwan, and our stationery is Australian-made. The majority of our party supplies are fairtrade products from Nepal and Indonesia. Our decorations are from China, and we are currently working on introducing a new range of fairtrade bunting made by HIV-positive women in Cambodia. The games that we sell are made in Australia, America and China.
What eco-friendly practices do you follow in your daily lives?
We recycle our rubbish, send our soft plastics to our recycle bins and compost our food. When purchasing products, we look at the source - if it's ethical and earth-friendly, and the manner in which they are disposed of. We use Tupperware and reusable cups for coffee, avoid plastic bottles and refrain from packing our kids' lunch in disposable packaging.
For clothing, we mainly shop at op shops and tend to use our money for good quality, long-lasting shoes. We use our local library for books and magazines and buy second-hand furniture. For our kids' parties, Tina creates handmade decorations, reuses other items, and of course uses the products from our shop.
Yours is a family run business. How do you manage to delineate the tasks and keep disagreements at bay?
It's just Tina and I running the business, although my father did chip in while we travelled Australia in a caravan for six months last year. It involved us moving the company to Belair from our Aldinga premises. Our 12-year-old son had shown interest in contributing to the endeavour - but that lasted just 45 minutes!
As a husband and wife team, we like to think we generally agree on most things, but there are times when we don't. As for tasks, I do the research for our business - biodegradability of balloons, how to compost our products better, and also handle the website and social media. Tina researches what products are appropriate for our business and undertakes all the finance and bookkeeping tasks.
We often joke that Tina is the heart and soul of the business while I am the brains. And when I say "we" joke, I mean I!
What kind of challenges did you face while starting an endeavour like yours?
Capital was hard to come by and creating visibility about our work through our website was initially quite tough. Creating relationships with suppliers also had its challenges, but we found the right ones, and it has been a mutually fulfilling relationship seince.
Was it easy to get people interested in the kind of service you were providing?
We felt people didn't take us seriously - at least initially. But we stuck to our guns and changed the concept from packaging the party boxes only to supplying smaller individual packs of cutlery cups and plates.
But, since last year, more people have shown interest in having eco-friendly parties, and have also started noticing our work. Awareness about our anti-balloons stance - we stopped selling them in 2014 - and starting a campaign to ban plastic tableware in South Australia also helped us gain a lot of goodwill.
Our biggest disappointment, however, is the misinformation surrounding disposable, compostable tableware. A popular programme on a renowned channel recorded that compostable single-use cups were not recyclable (they are) and that Australia doesn't have the infrastructure to compost them commercially (it has).
A recent viral video also said that compostable plastic tableware and packaging couldn't be recycled and home composted. This, of course, is true but the video failed to take into account that many councils allow these products in their green bin.
How do you think Australians can embrace a more eco-friendly approach when it comes to parties?
Realistically, reusable products are the best! For larger events commercially, compostable bamboo plates and paper cups and even our homemade compostable Areca palm leaf plates, sugar cane plates and wooden cutlery make for less waste. They are made from renewable sources and can be composted.
You can dispose them off in the green bins, which is allowed by nearly all Adelaide councils. As our other products are wholesome, natural, reusable and biodegradable, we like to think that by shopping with us our customers are making a fantastic choice to make their party more environmentally friendly.
What are your plans for the future?
Ideally, we'd love to keep our business family run and continue to supply the best eco-friendly party products in the market. We'd like to expand our range to include more reusable tableware, see our business move from the garage into a warehouse, and employ more staff to take on more orders.
We would also love to introduce a shopfront and manufacture a few other party products. Hopefully, we can do this by gaining some funding or wait till our business takes wings organically.
In the coming months, we will be focusing on our event Waste Solutions Service, whereby we take people's compostable tableware and get it converted into compost in a commercial composting facility, closing the loop and leading the industry in environmental party management.
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