This is Circular: The Story of a Small Start-up with Big Ambitions
“I want to contribute and do something meaningful” – thought Caroline Villamizar Duque, our founder at This is Circular, a year before the concept of her start-up was even born.
Caroline is a British entrepreneur who led a successful career in the events industry for over 20 years. She ran a business that conceived and organised creative events for individuals and world leading brands. Her high level of energy, passion for people and fun made her able to grow her events agency into an award-winning global company. Caroline always loved the traveling aspect of her job; to visit beautiful places, meet with new people every day and bring them joy by organising dramatic, large-scale parties fulfilling their every desire. However, after 20 years of fun in the events industry she felt like she was missing something. She wanted to make a positive impact not just on people’s lives, but on the environment too. She decided it was time to sell her share in the company and to figure out how she could contribute to the field of sustainability.
After selling her company at the beginning of 2019 and traveling for a few months in her vintage camper van, Caroline realised something. Everywhere she went, in every country there was one thing she consistently noticed– the waste from single-use plastic packaging. It is almost impossible to avoid it when doing your groceries, buying personal care or home cleaning products or even everyday snacks, mainly because there is a lack of alternatives. Therefore, at the end of her travels, Caroline decided to move to Amsterdam with her husband and dog to tackle the issue of the overuse of single-use plastic in a city with a strong sustainability focus and a great culture for start-ups.
Inspired by her memories of the milkman delivering to her home as a child, Caroline decided to build her business in the circular economy – and This is Circular was born. The concept is to distribute beauty, personal care and natural cleaning products in reusable aluminium bottles to the doorstep and to pick up empty bottles for cleaning and reuse, thus keeping them in a closed loop.
The business sells everything you might find in a drugstore with a combination of international name brands and local products. The range includes shampoos and conditioners, a wide choice of facial creams and serums, deodorants, body washes and hand washes as well as a selection of natural cleaning agents, such as bathroom cleaner, degreaser and all-purpose cleaner. All of the brands are natural, several are organic, but first and foremost we make sure all the products are vegan and cruelty-free.
The “old milkman model” inspires delivery and reverse logistics systems. We deliver our orders to customers’ homes by electric bike (bakfiets) in central Amsterdam to keep the whole system eco-friendly. Once customers have finished using their products, we pick up the empty bottles from their houses, then we wash them, refill them and redistribute them in the upcoming orders. This way the packaging stays in circulation, reducing the waste of single-use plastic.
However, our mission at This is Circular is not just to reduce plastic waste, but to make reusable packaging the standard. We believe that a circular economy is a great long-term solution for reducing the exploitation of finite resources. We aim to bring in the least amount of virgin materials into our system and to keep our containers in the loop for as long as we can. The good thing about aluminium is that it is infinitely recyclable (it doesn’t lose quality when recycled and there is no need for adding virgin materials to it), so even if a container’s lifespan is over on its Circular journey, it can be recycled and reused over and over again without harming nature’s finite stocks. Moreover, we believe that cleaning up waste is just as important as preventing it and we are very proud to have teamed up with Seven Clean Seas. They are an international environmental organisation that recovers marine debris from the oceans of Indonesia. Whenever a product is purchased in our online store, 5 plastic bottles get pulled out of the ocean, thus creating change in some of the most polluted waters of the world.
Our team is super international. As mentioned before Caroline is British, her husband, our UX designer is Venezuelan, our Sales representative is Dutch-German, the head of Marketing is Peruvian, our Head of Partnerships and our Delivery Rider are both from the Netherlands and I am from Hungary. We are all different people, with different backgrounds and experiences, however one mission unites us: to reduce single-use plastic and to make our environment a healthier place.
We know how hard it is to change old habits, to switch from linear to circular, and we would like to help people and make this transition as smooth and convenient as possible. We would like to show that it is not necessary to compromise on convenience and quality when it comes to circularity and sustainability. However, it is important to keep in mind, which we all try to advocate as a team, that circularity is not about 100% perfection – it is about doing as much as you can as an individual. One small step taken by everyone is one big step in the right direction.
Currently we are only operating in Amsterdam, but we are dedicated to making Circular the norm all over the Netherlands and soon Europe. We believe the future is Circular and we are here to prove it!