CEO of Plaine Products, Lindsey McCoy is Rethinking Packaging to Reduce Single-Use Plastics
Kevue sat down (virtually, of course) with Lindsey McCoy, CEO, and Co-Owner of Plaine Products, to discuss how her personal care company is revolutionizing packaging to reduce plastic waste. Her answers will make you rethink your consumption habits and inspire you to use your voice as a consumer.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
First, tell us about yourself and how you started your company, Plaine Products.
I started out in the non-profit sector, so my background is a bit different than most entrepreneurs. Actually, I lived in the Bahamas, where I ran an environmental non-profit organization called Save the Bays.
I kept running into single-use plastic everywhere: on the beach, in the water, on the roads. In smaller countries they don’t have the same infrastructure to make waste disappear, as we do in the States. When you visually see it piling up, you have this realization that plastic really sticks around. We use it, we throw it away, but it doesn’t actually go away.
One place I couldn’t find a plastic-free solution was in my shower. I was ready for a break from the non-profit world, so I called my sister and said, “Hey! Do you want to start a business? Let’s figure out an alternative to plastic bottles in the shower.” She was like, “Okay!” Our dad had a ton of small businesses, so the idea wasn’t scary to us. If our dad could do it, we could do it!
That was in May 2015, and we finally launched the website in February 2017. It took us nearly two years to figure it out, but we did!
Let’s talk about your products. Not only do they reduce waste, but they’re also non-toxic, vegan, and cruelty-free; right?
Plaine Products focuses on personal care: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, facial products. If you look at most shampoos, water is the first ingredient. Our products are aloe-based instead of water-based. We went with a small pump for our shampoo because the product is thick and you don’t need much. We want people to have their bottle last as long as possible.
“In some ways, our model is so simple and in some ways, it’s super revolutionary.” - Lindsey McCoy
When you initially order a product, it comes in an aluminum bottle with a pump. When you’re running low, you simply order a refill bottle. We try to reduce as much waste as possible, so you just switch your first pump over, instead of needing a new one. Along with the refill comes a return label. You stick the empty bottle in the box and send it back to us for free, and we wash and refill the bottles. You can even subscribe to have the refill sent automatically. In some ways, our model is so simple, and in some ways, it’s super revolutionary.
What was the process like going from concept to physical product?
It was a lot of learning and asking questions... and having people think we were crazy. At the time, nobody else was taking back packaging; even now, it’s still kind of a revolutionary thing. The whole idea took a while to figure out.
I didn’t realize how many nasty chemicals are in mainstream personal care products. How could we create this environmentally-friendly packaging system and then put a bunch of chemicals in it?! It took us a while to find great suppliers and manufacturers and to make sure the products actually worked. When you’re doing something new, you can’t just check the boxes. Everything takes a little bit longer to figure out.
What has been your biggest obstacle?
We’ve had a lot of hurdles. My attitude has always been that it’s okay not to be perfect. We’re constantly learning, listening to people, and getting new ideas. Packaging doesn’t matter much to your average customer, so we had to find new ways to talk about our products. If you talk about reducing waste and plastic pollution or not having chemicals, people pay attention. You just have to share that message instead.
What has been your most significant accomplishment so far?
This month, Plaine Products will have diverted 200,000 plastic bottles from landfills! The great thing about aluminum is that when you do recycle it, there’s no quality lost. They just melt it down and turn it back into aluminum. With plastic, melting it down again changes the chemical composition, so you can really only reuse plastic once or twice because of how downcycling works in our recycling process.
Tell us about Plaine Products getting it’s B-Corp certification and what that means to your company.
First of all, I heard that Kevue just got a B-Corp certification so congratulations! As you know, it’s no easy feat. It’s a commitment. In order to get certified, you’re measured on countless areas: community, environment, how you treat your employees, everything! You also have to document everything.
As a relatively new company, it has been incredibly helpful for us to learn how we should run things and what we should be paying attention to. It’s great to go through this process step-by-step and be reminded about the policies and procedures we should have in place. They will—in a good way— put you through the wringer. It’s something I hope more businesses will do.
What’s it like being a part of the B-Corp community?
I joined a wonderful group of women B-Corp CEOs called WeTheChange. Its super easy in a small business to keep your head down, and it’s great to have an outside group that’s helping you step back. Even as a small company, you can play a role in these broader issues and have some kind of impact.
Plus, it’s a great support group. Everybody has different experiences in starting a business. You can’t know everything, and there’s so much to learn from everybody else in the B-Corp community.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
We have been incredibly lucky thus far. We are very reliant on our manufacturer, and they have been able to stay open. We made the choice to go with a responsible company, so they were very proactive from the beginning. I think that made a huge difference. Other than the people in-person packing and shipping the products, most of the rest of our team was already remote.
It’s been a great time to have an online business, so we’ve actually been growing. Surprisingly, the hardest thing to get were pumps! The skyrocketing need for hand sanitizer caused a global shortage. We already had hand sanitizer in the works, so it’s been a great time to actually launch it. We’re trying not to add to the world’s garbage pile while still keeping you safe and sanitized.
What do you see in the future for your business?
We’re on a mission to get single use plastic out of the bathroom. We stick to workhorse products that get the job done and work for most people. We’re trying not to add to the consumer culture of needing to have a whole line of things in your shower for every different situation.
Because of my non-profit background, we’re really into partnerships. Our goal is to try to meet people where they are, so we’re excited to be part of the refill movement. There are refill shops popping up all over the country, and we want to help give people a different way to reduce plastic. That plan has been affected by COVID because so many places had to close, so it has been a bit slower to roll out.
As the CEO of a B-Corp, you have a wealth of knowledge. Mind if we ask for some advice on starting your own business?
The great thing about the world is that there are lots of problems to solve. To me, if you have a solution that you’re excited about, that’s probably a solution that’s going to excite someone else too. Plastic that lasts forever doesn’t make sense for something we use for a few minutes and throw away. Putting less plastic out in the world doesn’t require a single solution, it needs hundreds of solutions! The key is just to keep trying.
Be willing to learn and innovate along the way. Tenacity is important but not necessarily stubbornness. Be willing to say things aren’t working. Be humble enough to ask questions. Most people along my journey have been very generous with their time and knowledge. I’m always happy to talk to other people and do what we can to encourage others to join this space. We’re not rivals; we’re competitors on the same team.
Do you have any advice for regular consumers who want to shop more consciously?
Pick one thing to start with, like a water bottle or reusable bag. The overwhelming amount of plastic we use can become a barrier to getting started. Preparation is key. Think about where you’re headed and what reusable items you may need to bring.
Take a second to pause before you purchase. It’s super easy to buy what you’ve always bought or to buy the thing that’s most convenient, instead of the most sustainable. Pick something that’s gonna last longer, even if that means you’re gonna be paying a little bit more. Corporations are motivated by consumer choices and we have a lot of power.
Our mantra is progress not perfection. I certainly am not perfect. My waste does not fit in a glass jar at the end of the year, but I try and I think that’s all that matters.