Did you know that washing your clothes is causing microplastics pollution?
Tiny plastic particles are polluting our oceans, where they can stay for centuries, harming sea life and making their way into the human food chain. These microplastics — fragments of plastic smaller than 5mm — are often the result of bigger chunks being worn down by the elements. But a surprisingly large amount comes from people simply washing their clothes.
Slovenia-based startup PlanetCare designed the product to catch fibers shed in the washing machine before they flow into the water system.
PlanetCare is the leading developer of specifically designed filtering solutions for the removal of harmful plastic microfibres, which are released during washing of textiles and clothing. PlanetCare’s microfibre filters were developed to stop the harmful and widespread microplastics pollution, which is causing irreparable damage to ecosystems and has implications for human health.
What follows is a very informative interview with Andrej Kržan, PlanetCare’s chief scientist.
What is the social innovation household microfiber filter about?
It’s an innovation that protects our environment. It is a collaborative effort that harnesses the actions of individuals to reach a general benefit for all. In a time quite focused on self-gain it represents a fresh wind that is possible only when considering the wider social and environmental aspects.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
The motivation was (and remains) very simple. All of us pollute the environment every day and, at least in the case of fibres from washing, this is entirely preventable. We decided to do something about it and managed to get together a group to make it real.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
The idea came about by accident. While visiting an exhibition on plastic pollution in the oceans our founder was confronted with a microscopy picture and description of the extent of fibre pollution. She was just working on a small project where fibres had to be filtered and she quickly decided that the filtration method could be used for fibres from washing. In her mind, this was unnecessary pollution that should be stopped.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
When translating an initial idea into a business there are many risks and you will likely be confronted with issues you have very little idea about. And in a start-up company, there are only a few people to deal with everything. Beginners enthusiasm and the fresh energy tend to take you through many obstacles you certainly were not prepared for. The main challenge and fear for us was will we be able to attract attention and change minds to see the problem as we saw it.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?)
The most important point was to have a group of people that had a shared belief in the purpose of the company and brought their capabilities to the table. It cannot be a calculation. If hearts are not in it there is rarely enough money to overcome the odds.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
We were lucky to find many partners that shared our concern and joined forces with us. We were also extremely active to tell our story to anybody willing to listen to us. And at the same time, we supported our words with evidence and very soon with a product. Of course, the main ingredient is that you firmly believe the story yourself, do your homework and study facts and above all keep on working. Along the way we received many negative comments on almost all points: it cannot be done, it is difficult, nobody needs it, nobody will buy it etc. But we are a bit stubborn and such comments made us only go further faster.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
There was a lot of trials and communication. We tried every version of our product in our own homes so we understood the limitations. Since we sell our filters we are getting even more feedback from which we learn a lot.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DYI fundraising?
Fundraising is not our strong point. We were supported by founder fees. To be honest, it is not easy to get investors when you are selling hardware, you are introducing a new product for which the market is not yet proven and you are focused on an environmental problem. Our advice is to hold on to your dreams and you will make them happen.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
Scaling is relative. For us, it was most important to start selling and gaining “traction” that served to orient us. To establish a sales channel, it takes as much effort to sell 10 units as 10.000. It’s more like riding a bike: you first need to hold your balance even when going slowly. Going faster is not so difficult.
How do you change the whole system?
You must be persistent, transparent and respect anybody you have contact with, even if they might disagree with you. You should not think of changing a whole system but rather make logical steps forward all the time.
What is the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Look for like-minded people and start doing it. Enthusiasm is viral and others will soon join you.
Maja Novak leads effective workshops in the field of marketing and sales for companies and various other organizations. She has over 20 years of marketing, video production and copywriting experience with innovative companies. She believes that high quality content, if delivered to the right audience at the right time and through the right media, has the power to grow business significantly. Nowadays she is a renowned marketing strategist, head of video production and the lead coach of the “Find Your Voice” marketing program, delivering training to large companies and small business owners. Maja helps clients to design a clear path to promote their innovative products, accelerate sales and grow market share.
Would you like to learn more from other inspiring social innovators?
Check out the Social Innovation Academy – the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.
If you are interested in keeping up with the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.