Making single use plastic history

Simona Paganetto's jump from a successful career in the medical technology sector to launching a platform for plastic-free products is a tale of determination and purpose.

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The Italian born, Northern Territory resident founded “I’m Plastic Free,” a unique initiative dedicated to combating plastic pollution.

"People were looking at me like if I was an alien. People would say ‘Simona, plastic free? You know everything is made of plastic in this world! What are you thinking?’.” - Simona Paganetto

But what motivated her to start the company and what challenges did she face as an entrepreneur in the sustainability sector?  

From pristine beaches to a global mission

In 2013 Simona relocated from Switzerland to the Whitsunday Islands in Australia.

Her awakening to plastic pollution occurred while volunteering with a local non-profit organisation to clean up Whitsunday beaches, which were marred by a distressing amount of plastic waste.

Simona initially believed plastic pollution was primarily a problem in developing nations and was shocked to discover it’s a global issue.

This realisation planted the seed for her future endeavours. And in 2018 when plastic pollution came to global attention with the help of social media, Simona decided to act.

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Simona in the Beach Clean-Up With Sea Shepherd Darwin.

She initially imported eco-friendly straws and stainless-steel telescopic straws, but she soon realised the challenges of competing in these markets.

It was initially quite hard because five years ago no one was talking about being plastic conscious in rural Australia,” says Simona. “People were looking at me like if I was an alien. People would say ‘Simona, plastic free? You know everything is made of plastic in this world! What are you thinking?’.”

“But I had this very vision in my mind that was way too strong for me to let go.

This led her to open an online marketplace for products that sought to reduce plastic pollution, aiming to provide sustainable solutions to eco-conscious consumers. 

This venture also faced logistical challenges and high shipping costs given the distance between her operations in regional Australia and potential markets.

The turning point

Her start-up took a significant turn when she embraced affiliate marketing and began recommending plastic-free products or products that have minimal plastic on her online platform and using technology to redirect users to those products.

The "I’m Plastic Free" platform was born to not only offer solutions but to act as a bridge, connecting eco-conscious consumers with plastic-free products from around the world. When these recommended products sold on her platform, Simona earned a commission.

This simplified model eliminated the need to manage physical inventory. The secret ingredient though is the detailed research she conducts on the products to ensure they are designed with clear sustainability principles.

She believes in the potential of the circular bioeconomy, a new economic model that embraces the use of renewable natural capital and focuses on minimising waste and replacing non-renewable, fossil-based products.

It is estimated the circular bioeconomy will have a value of US$7.7 trillion by 2030. Simona believes industry will becomes better at extracting and processing resources while reducing pollution. And she continues to seek investors who share this vision.

In the last five years Simona has seen a surge in companies selling “closed loop” products – or items that can be re-introduced to the market, minimising what ends up in landfill.

Production of compostable plastics and biomaterials – such as seaweed, algae or fungi – have also boomed as a way to reduce plastic waste.

Simona now focuses on content creation to her global audience of about 18,000 unique web users per month. About half of the platform's growth has been from North America, particularly the USA and Canada.

“I’m Plastic Free” promotes environmental consumer education in a bid to reduce microplastics – which have infiltrated the entire ecosystem.

An  entrepreneur’s path

Simona's journey has not been without its challenges. Being a female founder, a migrant entrepreneur and based in regional Australia presented additional obstacles.

As "I’m Plastic Free" continues to grow and make a positive impact, Simona was recently awarded the Chief Executive Women (CEW) and ANZ Sustainability Scholarship.

As part of the scholarship she will attend the Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership at Harvard University. She will learn new strategies for making sustainability a driver of organisational engagement, innovation and change.

CEW and ANZ Sustainability Scholarship

There is real opportunity to develop women sustainability practitioners across the fields of environmental sustainability, corporate sustainability and sustainable finance, so they can advance into more influential roles to lead and accelerate sustainable outcomes.

Once a year, ANZ and CEW offer experienced women sustainability practitioners the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and enhance their capabilities.

Each CEW scholarship represents a lifechanging opportunity. They provide women leaders with the chance to study, learn, and accelerate their careers at some of the world’s most influential institutions: Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Stanford and INSEAD.

Read more about the CEW scholars and future opportunities here.

Her “why”, as she puts it, is her two children. She is committed to providing a cleaner and more sustainable world for the generations to come.

Christina Tonkin is Managing Director of Corporate Finance at ANZ Institutional

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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