While it may be a little confronting to receive your latest purchase wrapped in packaging that states “I’m a real dirt bag”, it’s this quirky slogan (mixed with aesthetically pleasing home-compostable and reusable packaging) that has acted as a viral marketing tool for The Better Packaging Co., helping them sell 50 million bags in just a few years. Or as the co-founder and co-director Rebecca Percasky looks at it: “That’s 50 million single-use bags we’ve managed to divert from landfill.”
The self-confessed “packaging vigilante” says that at the time of launching the company, she and her business partner, Kate Bezar, believed it would only ever be a side business. However, as it turned out there was a desire from many retailers — particularly small-to-medium-sized companies — to change to more environmentally friendly packaging. In addition, Covid-19 supercharged the e-commerce industry; deliveries rose by an estimated 57 per cent in Australia last year online. The growth in demand has led the company to debut new products, including compostable tape, which sold out within 48 hours. “We’ve got this amazing customer base who are looking for change,” says Percasky. “Consumers are voting with their wallets for what they want to see.”
The Better Packaging Co. is now B Corp certified and carbon negative, and Percasky was a laureate in this year’s Cartier Women’s Initiative, a global programme that drives change by empowering female entrepreneurs. T Australia spoke to her about what she’s learned in her first few years of business and what recognition in the 2021 Cartier Women’s Initiative means for The Better Packaging Co. now and in the future.
Tell us how the idea for The Better Packaging Co. came about
“Well, I’ve always been incredibly passionate about packaging; we use too much, we use the wrong materials, and quite often there’s packaging just for the sake of packaging. Prior to launching this I was one of the co-founders of an IT start-up that facilitates the transaction of e-commerce orders. It was there that I just saw how quickly e-commerce was growing, and with that growth came an extraordinary amount of packaging waste. So, we could see that there was an opportunity to create packaging that was sustainable, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what material we would use when we started, but we landed on home compostable packaging because we wanted to make something that people could dispose of in their own backyards.”
What was your business model in the early days?
“We always thought that we would be dealing with large corporations and companies that buy their packaging in millions of units at a time. However, we posted a Google ad and within minutes we got a response from a small-to-medium business wanting sustainable packaging. The responses just kept coming and we realised that our business model wasn’t catering for them. So we made an on-the-fly decision that we would make a range for these customers who only wanted to buy them in units of 20, 50 or a 100 because we didn’t think it was fair that you had to be a really large corporation to have access to sustainable packaging. I think it’s testament to the fact that when you lead with your values, the right thing will happen. And in fact, our first product sold out within a couple of weeks, so we doubled the order and those sold out within a couple of weeks as well, so we doubled it again!”
What else has surprised you and what have you learned in the past four years?
“I’ve learned the value of leaning into your mistakes. When you start a company like this in a completely new industry, you need to take a lot of risks. We’ve made an extraordinary number of mistakes, but we’ve always been able to learn from them. Now, when we make a mistake or something knocks us over, we almost get excited about it because we know there’s going to be learning out of it. For me, that’s been an incredibly important thing to learn. Previously, I always wanted to do everything the right way, but you can’t when you have your own business. You don’t have all the answers all the time because you’re learning as you go.”
Tell us about the process of becoming a B Corp certified business.
“We proudly became B Corp certified at the end of last year. It was something that we had decided upon from day one, but you have to wait at least a year before applying for it. We wanted to use it as the framework for our whole business because as a B Corp business you’re legally required to operate in a sustainable and ethical way. You sign a contract to say that this is the way that you’re going to behave across your whole business. It includes everything from how you deal with your employees or your suppliers right through to the type of power you use. You need to go through every part of your business and think, ‘How could we operate more ethically or sustainably? How can we make sure that every part of our supply chain has got checks and balances to make sure that we’re looking after everybody?’. We’ve done that and we’ve also become climate positive and have offset our carbon emissions by 200 per cent. They have been big milestones for us.”
What was your reaction when you found out you were a finalist in the Cartier Women’s Initiative?
“It’s such an honour because Cartier really do their due diligence. There are four stages to the application process and they go through your business with a fine-tooth comb. It’s more than just winning an award. They mentor you and research your business to make recommendations along the way, which are incredibly helpful. You are then put in touch with experts from all around the world who have had experience with a business at the same stage as yours. They’ve got your best interests at heart, which is incredibly refreshing and, I have to say, it’s been an amazing experience.”
What advice do you have for businesses or consumers who would like to be more environmentally friendly?
“My number-one advice for both is to get a home compost or a work compost. Over 55 per cent of what goes to landfill is organic matter, so if we all started composting we would not only divert that waste but we would also reduce methane. Methane is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of warming the earth in the short term and composting is such an easy way to reduce the effects of global warming.”
What’s next on the agenda for the company and for you?
“We’re focusing on the Australian and the US markets at the moment, and we’re growing our team and trying to get the right people in place. Plus, we’ve got some amazing product innovation happening and a whole new stream of products that we’re working on. Three or four that we’ll launch towards the end of this year. The space is growing really quickly, and the innovation is happening at a rate of knots, which is super exciting, so we’re leveraging that.”