Children’s toy company HEVEA was founded in 2009 with the idea to rethink how we leave the world behind for our children – but how easy was it to set up a plastic-free brand? They reveal their learnings, challenges and hopes for the future…
WHAT HAPPENED IN YOUR VERY FIRST DESIGN MEETING – WHAT STAGES OF THINKING DID YOU GO THROUGH?
HEVEA was founded on the belief in and love for the natural material from the Hevea Brasiliensis tree (the most common rubber tree). Hence the name of the company. However, natural rubber as a substance used for design purposes had been neglected for 20-30 year due to the development of petroleum-based resources such as artificial rubber and not least silicone. Terese, the founder of HEVEA, saw the gap in the market more than 10 years ago to design modern looking natural rubber products for babies and dogs. Fortunately, the world has re-opened their eyes to this wonderful material in the last couple of years.
HOW DID YOU END UP ON RUBBER? WHY DO YOU THINK RUBBER IS THE BEST ALTERNATIVE TO PLASTIC?
The raw natural rubber sap comes from the Hevea trees which absorb CO2 and at the same time is highly biodegradable, and therefore a very sustainable material. Natural rubber is soft and flexible yet durable. This is also 2 key factors which can be done with plastic, but plastic is made from a petroleum basis and is not degradable. Natural rubber can last long but not forever (as plastic does – this is extremely problematic when considering the vast amount of plastic waste, we are facing globally)
HOW IS THE RUBBER HARVESTED?
Rubber tapping is the process by which latex is collected from a rubber tree. Slicing a groove into the bark of the tree at a depth of a quarter inch with a hooked knife and peeling back the bark harvest the latex. Rubber Tapping is not damaging to the forest, as it does not require the tree to be cut down in order for the latex to be extracted. It is, however, rather time-consuming and it requires skills and training to do this correctly.
WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED IN TERMS OF MANUFACTURING?
It is hard to work with a natural material like rubber, as it will react to many external factors such as the weather. You have to have a high level of know-how in other to reach the right quality. As the request for products made from natural rubber has increased, prices on the raw material have done the same, but for us, it’s a key principle, that we fair all parts of the supply chain fairly – all the way from a worker in the forests to the retailers selling our products
HOW HAVE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES FACILITATED THE PROCESS OF HAVING A PLASTIC-FREE BRAND?
We have been able to develop more advanced moulds and using more efficient machines. This is key, as we started HEVEA with only a few handcrafted moulds.
DO YOU RECYCLE OR UPCYCLE ANY OF YOUR PRODUCTS/BY-PRODUCTS?
Yes, we do. Our latest products the swimming fins are made partly from raw natural rubber and partly from by-product from the production of natural rubber products. We also continuously encourage our customers to return their used HEVEA products to us after ended use. This material we upcycle to new items. And finally, we have for years and years asked our customers to use and re-use packing, skillets and card boxes.
HOW ARE YOU PLASTIC-FREE IN OTHER AREAS OTHER THAN PRODUCT?
Every day we try to do our best in the office to reduce both waste and plastic. It is in all areas from logistics to customer service. For example, we now use fillers for transportation made from corn. Also, we are making coffee from fresh beans rather than capsules, lunch is often cooked from leftovers and all our packaging is FSC certified, recycled and the pp film we use on our packaging is plant based so it is also biodegradable. The chairs and table in our meeting room are highly valued design-items. They are 35-40 years old but works perfectly (and are at the same time lovely to look at)
WHAT IS YOUR KEY TAKEAWAY FROM STARTING A PLASTIC-FREE BRAND?
That it feels great and so right. By contributing to the world by making better, safer and greener alternatives which is beneficial for all: people, animals and the planet will also make a difference for our own children and generations to come.
The world wasn’t ready when we started HEVEA. But now it is. You can say that the reason for this is sad. It has become apparent to large parts of the world’s population, that we need to change the way we use and have consumed for decades. But we are so happy to see, that now the world is fully ready. Ready for eco-friendly solutions and therefore ready for HEVEA.
DO YOU THINK BUSINESSES SHOULD BE OBLIGATED TO GO PLASTIC-FREE?
It would need to be done through regulatory initiatives and the way the world is right now, I do not think that is possible. Ideally, it makes a lot of sense to globally impose taxes and political regulations to reduce any waste including plastic and at the same time reward companies which make a positive impact for a greener world. But I am not very optimistic in the aspect – who should introduce this legislation? But it is our hope (and this is what we are seeing right now) the consumers’ increased request for plastic-free and eco-friendly products will change the market. And let’s hope this will even increase in the months and years to come!
IF A BRAND WAS LOOKING TO GO PLASTIC FREE OR REDUCING THEIR PLASTIC USE WHAT WOULD YOU ADVISE THEM?
Do it – why not?? There are (fortunately) a lot of companies willing to share their knowledge and experience, so we all can move towards a better and greener world.
WHAT COMES AFTER PLASTIC-FREE, WHAT MATERIALS ARE YOU LOOKING INTO FURTHER?
We all have to look at reducing any waste as well as being much smarter with how we can save water. Many places in the world they are facing problems with water quality. We need to be able to recycle and upcycle this essential and amazing natural resource which many of us just take for granted. It will not last forever if we do not care and do our utmost to do better!
Written by - Katie Stalker