Right now at Sustainable Salons, we’re embarking on an insanely exciting new operations journey. We can’t say too much, only that if (no, when!) our pilot is successful, it could open up an effective sustainability option to thousands of salons located out of metro reach.

Our mission at Sustainable Salons is to make sustainability a reality for everyone, and expanding our service reach has been our top priority since day one. We’re inundated daily with requests from regional salons to be part of the program – some even offer to drive or mail their materials to our nearest metro centre! And while their eco-enthusiasm makes us very happy, as with most logistics systems, unfortunately, that’s not a sustainable model for them or for us. 

All the while though, we push on in the background to piece together a solution. So why hasn’t it come sooner? 

It’s no secret that recycling operators have made a sketchy name for themselves, especially in recent years where so much of the industry has been brought into the light and shown to be ‘lazy’ (that’s the nice way of putting it) via programs like the ABC’s War on Waste. The consumer has finally been educated. 

At Sustainable Salons, we consider ourselves very different from your regular recycling service – we’re a social enterprise, we’ve found a way to bring the people, planet and profit tiers of true sustainability into one seamless program, and the only way this works is with integrity. We want to be sure that we can deliver 110% on the things we say we’re doing, which means if we haven’t quite figured it out start to finish, then it doesn’t go ahead until we do.

There’s a lot to research and test and prove not only when it comes to recycling and repurposing modern products, but in collecting them, too! It’s our responsibility to make sure what we offer is accessible, effective, scaleable and most importantly, transparent. We must be able to hold up our side of the arrangement – to openly communicate to you, our members and consumers, exactly what becomes of the materials once they’ve left the salon. And we’re able to do this confidently because we keep our operations local. These two promises we make are in place so that our salon members can enthusiastically shout from the rooftops (or their social channels) that their sustainability is genuine.

Just to give you some idea of what that looks like, here’s a quick operations breakdown from behind-the-scenes at Sustainable Salons across Australia and New Zealand: 

  • 6 depots
  • 22 recyclers
  • 8 research projects
  • 61 jobs
  • 23 supported employees
  • 70 sustainably-minded local product suppliers
  • 7 government and corporate partners actively championing our efforts

But, here’s the thing. Recycling is a two-way street. Organisations like us – and even your residential recyclers – rely on one important step to make sure our best practices don’t go to waste. It’s the part of the process that happens in those first few moments after you’ve used/emptied/exhausted a product: which bin?

This is make or break. Here’s why.

What you do matters. It’s easy to feel like you’re only a small piece of the puzzle, and that what you do probably doesn’t make that much of a difference. We hear this all the time in the sustainability space: “but I’m just one person”. Let me set the record straight here and now. Your actions at that moment determine not only that item’s pathway but potentially the pathway of the other items in that bin as well. 

When you know the item you’re holding isn’t recyclable, but suddenly you find yourself lifting the lid of the recycling bin… you’re wish-cycling.

It’s SO common! We’re wired to want to do what’s good. We generally want our choices not to harm anyone or anything. We want to be constructive, not destructive. And so even when we know it wasn’t designed for a second life, we put that product in the ‘wish-cycling bin’, hoping that someone on the other end can magically do something about keeping it out of landfill.

Unfortunately, for an action that’s driven by good intentions, the outcome can sadly be the opposite of what you wished for. The success of recycling is based on creating pure streams of one material, which is why we give our salon members special bins to separate their materials during each service. That way, when we collect them, they’re neatly packaged into lovely groups of paper, plastic, metals and chemicals ready to be combined with other salons’ neatly packaged materials and sent off to the recyclers (who, by the way, love receiving our pristine resources). When just one non-recyclable item finds its way into that pure stream, the entire batch of materials in that group can be contaminated and destined only for a hole in the ground.

Even in your residential recycling, different councils have different recycling capabilities, and so when one says they can take a certain item but another says they can’t, it’s important not to ignore those instructions. And we believe this mindset is more crucial now than it’s ever been. With the abundance of mixed-materials, non-recyclable PPE flowing through our lives daily, we have some tricky lessons to overcome not only about how we approach the tug-of-war between public health and the future of our planet, but what we do when public health MUST come before the planet. In this instance, as we try to do with every product we come across at Sustainable Salons, we look for the product that will do the job with the least negative impact, and often it’s a reusable (goes in the washing machine) or biodegradable (breaks down in landfill) alternative.

So let us leave you with a nifty tip: when you’re faced with a choice, first think about the bin you’ll need to put it in at the end of that product’s life – and the anxiety you might have! If you start there, chances are you’ll be happy to do your homework to make sure it’s the best option available.

Don’t get us wrong – good intentions are awesome! This means you truly WANT to do things another way, for the better. All you need to lock in now is your fairy god-recycler (hint: we know a place)