How to Shop Like an Eco Warrior: A Chat with Lois Mills, Co-Founder & Head of Brand at Homethings

We created our ‘How to Shop Like an Eco Warrior’ podcast series to help you get a step closer to living a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. Throughout the series we discuss the issues, share the trends and ideas through interviews with other awesome and exciting challenger brands. And ultimately, you’ll go away inspired and empowered to make little changes in your life that will help protect the earth.

Read below to read our full interview with Lois Mills, Co-Founder & Head of Brand at Homethings.

Please tell us a little bit about Homethings. What is Homethings all about and why did the brand begin?

It’s a great question. So Homethings is basically hopefully your new go-to eco refillable cleaning best friend. We’re a cleaning company, we believe in sustainable products, we believe in a totally different model of cleaning. And it all kind of came about from realising I guess, literally Tim and Matt, the co-founders, opening the cupboards underneath their kitchen sink and just seeing how many plastic bottles were there. And you know, I think we’re all in that method of consumption and we need 1700 products for different things. And actually, if you think about it from a sustainability angle, we think “Hang on a second. All we hear about in the news is how bad plastic is. And yet our homes are filling over with this stuff.” And I think this is just an area which up until a year ago, two years ago had been so overlooked. And so that’s kind of where the lightbulb moment happened and we thought there must be a better way to clean our homes.

When you consider your typical cleaning product, it’s made up of a single-use plastic bottle filled with up to 95% water that you’ll use once and you chuck away. So we’ve totally rethought that model. We sell bottles which you can keep for life. They’re reusable, they’re refillable if you want to and I think that’s actually just a really nice USP for us is we don’t make you buy the bottle if you’ve already got a bottle that you already know and we don’t need to add to that problem. If you want to buy one and you want to keep it for life and reuse and refill, great. If you’ve already got a glass bottle or a plastic bottle that you can reuse again, also fantastic. 

But our main kind of, I guess lightbulb moment and product is the tabletized cleaning tab. The easiest way to describe it is it’s a Berocca for your bathroom or for your kitchen or for your windows. It looks just like this little capsule pellet and you literally just add it to your bottle of water 500ml of warm water, watch the magic.

How are your products helping in the plastic crisis?

So imagine you’ve gone through the purchasing process, you’ve got it delivered to your door from a first of all environmental perspective. You’ve already saved on co2 emissions by having that tab delivered to your door. So our tabs contain over 90% fewer carbon emissions than your standard bottle of claims break due to the weights, you’re not shipping water, you’re not doing any of that unnecessary bit. So already, you can pat yourself on the back, you’ve done a good job.

In terms of the plastic problem, and the huge crisis that we have on our hands, we’re switching to a model that is much more sustainable in the fact that it’s refillable, rather than recyclable. For so long been told that recycling is the silver bullet, and you know, it’s gonna save the world. And we’re recycling, and we’re doing all these good things. And actually, I mean, we’ve all seen blue planet, we’ve all seen these documentaries that constantly coming up, only 9% of all the plastic that’s ever been produced, has actually gone ahead and been recycled. Often it’s not recycled, it’s not put where we think it is. And I think for a very, very long time, especially where we are based in the UK, it’s been an out of sight, out of mind problem. And it’s only recently that we’ve seen coming out in the news that it actually is our problem, we’re just shipping it over someone else to remove the problem. And so we need to rethink the model not you know, not find a new place to store the plastic, we need to rethink the entire system. And so by switching to a refillable and reusable model. So by keeping you know plastic as a material, it’s not really the devil. Plastic has its uses; it’s been game-changing for medicine and for science, but I think the problem is very much focused on single-use. So it’s only bad if you’re using it once you’re then getting rid of it. So it’s how can we make the most out of what we’ve already got. And in our view, that is a refillable and reusable model. So keep that bottle, whether it’s one of our bottles or one you own.

Do you have a view on Greenwashing?

Huge views, huge views, we’ve got an entire long blog post that I wrote with Tim about greenwashing because I think it’s very interesting. First of all, it’s very virtuous. I think what a lot of companies are doing and it’s often the bigger companies who maybe have more to hide, or they’re feeling a bit of guilt, or I don’t know what it is. Will put big, big bold claims out there in the world, that to us consumers sound great, and makes us feel like we’re doing better when actually I think the reality is that a lot of these companies are doing the very bare minimum.

Okay, a great example I think is when people say natural So our product is natural our product is not you know, we touched on this that a couple of minutes ago about how natural is not necessarily all that it’s made out to be that first of all in our industry anyway, there’s no industry-wide standard for natural, plant-based they’re very wishy-washy claims that some brands will use and backup. So for example, some brands might say we’re plant-based because we’re certified by the Vegan Society or we’re certified x y Zed. That’s fantastic that they can do that. But it’s very easy for someone to say we’re plant-based, we’re natural. We do this or we do that, and actually not do anything at all. I think another great example of greenwashing within especially in our kind of cleaning space, because you know, we’re obsessed with cleaning, is these huge brands, who I think have noted a little bit of a shakeup in the industry and are seeing the refillable is perhaps a good solution, but providing refills in single-use plastic containers. So again, not really addressing the problem at all, almost piggybacking on a buzzword refillable reusable for providing refills in some more single-use plastics. You know, it’s again, it’s how can you say that you’re caring about the planet and doing something that’s more environmentally friendly, when actually, we’re just adding to the problem? Because you’re pumping out more single use plastic, you’re not really changing your action? You’re just kind of packaging it up totally differently.

How do you think we can move to a more sustainable future?

I think the reality is it does take systems change, it takes companies and big corporations to make these changes and to bring them on. But I think realistically, it is the small things that we can do. . So our whole model is about, you know, less with more is one of our huge values as a company and how can we do more with less, not less, is more more or less same kind of thing. You know, we don’t have to be producing all these things. We can tabletize, we can reduce, we can concentrate, there’s no need for excess, which I think we’ve been living in for so long. And for so many years of our lives. So I think the first step is recognising that first of all, everyone can make a little small switch or a small change, you know, it doesn’t even have to be to all cleaning products. Maybe it’s just looking under your own kitchen sink thinking, do I have to chuck these bottles away when I’m done with them? Can I refill them or reuse them for something else? You know, I wouldn’t want to put a note but you could do whatever you want with it. That’s a circular mind frame of thinking. Something doesn’t have to be single-use, unless we’ve decided that we’re going to keep buying in that way. Yeah. So I think those are small things that people can do very easily. You can do it tomorrow, and hopefully not too much for the cost to yourself.

What do you think the obstacles are to sustainable living?

It’s an educational piece. You know, I think it’s all well and good for me to sit here and say oh, “That’s obvious…yes, of course, we should do this.. and ABC.” You know, I’ve been working on things since we began two years ago. You know, I’ve lived and breathed these conversations. So to me, of course, it seems obvious, but if you’d have asked me these things three years ago, I’d have no idea, I wouldn’t know what refillable was, I wouldn’t even think of that as a concept. And also, I think the reality is I probably wouldn’t care, because I wouldn’t know how it’s affecting me I wouldn’t necessarily see the benefits and when we’re so used to buying from a set group of companies and the companies are so adamant to not address these issues or to really do anything about it, it is 100% an educational piece.

And I think, for us as a small, tiny startup, that’s one of the things we try and work really hard at is providing content out there, whether it’s a blog, whether it’s video, whether it’s just product copy, or trying to… One, I guess, make people realise that what they’re doing is actually a fantastic thing without them even maybe realising that in the first place, but mass adoption is only going to come when there’s mass realisation and I think that doesn’t play into these big companies interest to help their customers realise that actually, the supermarket’s spilling over with their bottles is perhaps a bad thing because you know, that’s money for them. And why would they change if they don’t have to… so yeah, it’s definitely the educational piece that I think needs work.

You are very passionate about the circular economy, can you explain this concept a little more?

So in the simplest form, and that’s how I work with anything that seems remotely complicated, because my mind works in more graphical ways. But if you imagine a linear economy, as it says on the tin, a line, you know, from you purchasing something, consuming something or using it, and then the end of that product’s life is basically a line, and you’ll go back to that line and you’ll start again. So it is basically a single-use type of model: buy, use, chuck. That’s linear, that’s if you think about most products. 

If you think about the circular economy again, it helps maybe if you visualise a circle, it’s about taking that point of purchase and keeping that product some way in that system, so it’s being reused as being refilled. So again, I guess in the traditional cleaning model where you’d say you buy I don’t know Ciff, buy it, use it, chuck it if you say switch to homethings which is based on the circular economy, you’d buy it, you’d use it, you’d refill, you’d reuse and it kind of exists in this lovely circular model of being kept in its lifecycle, it’s elongating, that is better for the planet and it’s just keeping stuff in use far longer than a single-use one time hit wonder.