"They love this system because they are not only helping the environment, but are also reducing their waste management bills."
Picture the scene. You live in a flat on the third floor. You have carried up all your shopping from the supermarket. You unpack your shopping, only to find that you have forgotten to buy laundry detergent to wash your clothes. This can be frustrating. But a US-based company has found a green solution to put an end to the annoying situation by introducing EcoPods - refill stations that reduce plastic waste by dispensing cleaning solutions and personal care products into reusable containers that can be refilled again and again. And with single-use plastics in the spotlight, more and more people are opting to reduce them. Places around the world like the UK, France, Taiwan, and Vancouver are joining the plastic-free movement. And, of course, the US.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Welcome to 5 Minutes With... ! Can you begin with a description about EcoPod and what it is the company does?
Henry Pino (HP): I am a property developer and I develop large apartment buildings in Florida, which I have been doing for around 25 years. Prior to getting into the real estate business, I had worked in the detergent industry back in the ‘90s. During this time, I had opened up my own manufacturing facility which produced detergents for households and hotels. I had a great experience working in this industry, especially dealing with the detergent manufacturing process. Subsequently, I sold this business and then got into real estate.
I noticed that the buildings I have, which contain up to 300 to 400 units, discharged an enormous amount of rubbish which mostly consisted of plastics. So, I wanted to think of a way that I could eliminate some of these discharges from these buildings. I had a lot of flexibility with doing certain things because I own a lot of these buildings. I had the idea of giving new residents start-up complementary kits, which contained around five or six household cleaning products. This pack included a laundry softener, dishwasher detergent, and washing machine detergent, among other things.
We then informed the people living in the flats that they were living in environmentally-conscious buildings and that they had a machine located on a specific floor called the EcoPod – a refill station that provides eco-friendly laundry detergent, fabric softener, and other household cleaning products.
LG: How many EcoPods do you have in your flats at the moment?
HP: I have a manufacturing facility that makes the EcoPods, and I also have a facility that manufacturers the cleaning products. In addition to this, I have a lot of contacts who are developers and do what I do for a living. They love this system because they are not only helping the environment, but are also reducing their waste management bills. The residents are also throwing away less trash, which helps the transition to a circular economy.
We have five EcoPods in five buildings. You are always going to get people who are loyal to a specific brand, which will be hard for them to change.
EcoPod is a patented technology. We have spoken to other manufacturers who we would licence the patent to, so that they could brand the machine with the name of their companies and dispense their products. That would be at a supermarket level.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing the company?
HP: The biggest challenge is taking on two jobs. I am also not working on it 100% of the time as I also have to look after my children. I wish I could have developed it more quickly. Having said that, a lot of people can come up with good ideas, but not a lot of people pursue them. I have also been able to do this on my own, helped by my success with my real estate business. So, I haven’t had to bring any outside investors. I didn’t want to take on any investors or entities because I am used to running my own show. I wanted to control the quality going forward.
LG: What advice would you give to someone else looking to launch their own company in this space?
HP: A lot of persistence.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainable product?
HP: I think what they are trying to do with the clean up of the ocean is great. The OceanCleanup innovation that is pulling up plastics from the ocean is fantastic. However, this is an expensive way to do it and it is a huge task. What we are trying to do is stop the problem at its source.