Business

What do Q-tips and tissues have in common? Danish startup LastObject makes reusable ones in hopes of ending throwaway culture

When Kaare Frandsen and siblings Nicolas and Isabel Aagaard first started working together, they focused on designing chairs and kitchenware. But after a few years, they believed there seemed to be enough chair designs. What the world didn’t have, however, was enough eco-friendly alternatives to single-use consumer goods. The trio discovered 1.5 billion single-use Q-tips were created every day. They’re made just to be thrown out after a few seconds of use. So, they created LastObject, a company that sells two main products: reusable, eco-friendly Q-tips and tissues.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with co-founder Nicolas Aagaard to learn more about the throwaway culture that motivates his company’s work and how LastObject plans to build a future where our bathrooms can be zero-waste.

Tackling throwaway culture

What’s the main reason why single-use items like plastic bags and straws are still so prevalent? They’re convenient. And single-use plastics are by far the worst perpetrators.

Globally, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year. Half of that contributes to single-use plastics. For context, that’s the weight of the entire human population.

This throwaway culture and our propensity to buy for convenience has hurt the environment significantly. To tackle it, consumers and businesses alike are working together to spur a more circular economy and start reusing more.

LastObject imagines a future of zero-waste bathrooms

Keeping this in mind, LastObject launched its first product, LastSwab, in 2019. After making a reusable alternative to cotton swabs, the company then launched LastTissue, reusable, 100% organic cotton tissues that can be used for 2,800 wipes, earlier this year. It’s like “a Kleenex pack and a handkerchief had a baby,” the company shares.

Aagaard says LastObject’s products—just like many other single-use alternatives—are designed for minimal maintenance. After rinsing the swab with soap and water, they can be reused again.

And going forward, the Denmark-based company hopes to get their products into the hands of customers at retailers like Walmart and Tesco—and launch more products.

LastObject sees social influence creating opportunities for sustainability innovation

LastObject product LastSwab | Credit LastObject

Over time, greener products have grown more convenient and advanced. The Harvard Business Review says one big reason for this shift in consumer spending is social influence.

Research by co-author Katherine White found people were more likely to display sustainable shopping behaviors when others were around. (When given the option between an eco-friendly granola bar and a traditional one, people were twice as likely to choose the sustainable choice when others were around.)

From water bottles made of recycled ocean plastic to reusable snack bags, entrepreneurs have sought creative ways to reduce single-use plastic usage—and they will continue to be a crucial driver of our shift to more sustainable alternatives.

Fortunately for companies like LastObject, urgent climate conversations have given them the fuel to launch products that may have seemed wildly absurd a few years ago—and the opportunity to make the world a cleaner place.

Still a lot of work left to do

While many of us are increasingly thinking about how our actions impact the environment, that awareness doesn’t always translate to a purchase. For instance, hygiene and price points are common concerns when looking at sustainable goods.

“I don’t think people would have been ready for LastObject products a couple of years ago,” Aagaard told me. “We’ve come a long way in a very short time regarding people’s willingness to change.”

The Harvard Business Review also reveals 65% of consumers say they want to buy from more sustainable, purpose-driven brands. But in reality, only 26% actually do. There is still a hesitancy to adopt greener products. And, especially during a pandemic, there’s been a heightened reliance on single-use items like masks, plastic bags, and takeout boxes due to safety precautions.

So, although there’s been a big push to adopt more eco-friendly goods, there’s still a lot that needs to be done. Right now, just 100 companies are responsible for roughly 71% of all global emissions. And while we can all opt for more sustainable lifestyles personally, we all need to continue to play our own roles—whatever that may be—in putting pressure on companies that pollute.

This post was last modified on August 14, 2020 2:45 pm

Emily Dao

Emily Dao is a Writer at The Rising, primarily covering what businesses and the government are doing about climate change. You can pitch her stories at emily@therising.co.

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