Greenhouse Pioneer: Hayley Clarke, Onya

It’s official, we have entered the age of plastic. Scientists have confirmed that plastic pollution could mark the start of the Anthropocene, the geological period in which human activity has defined our planet.

Step forward Hayley Clarke, Managing Director of Onya, who has built a B corp business that upcycles plastic waste from landfill into reusable and sustainable solutions.

From using material made out of recycled plastic bottles to partnering with Terracycle to ensure that their products are either reused, upcycled or recycled after use, Onya embodies the ethos of the circular economy, and in 2018 alone diverted 19.54 tonnes of plastic waste from landfill.

We spoke to Hayley to find out all about Onya’s mission and what we can do to reduce our addiction to single use plastic.

hayley onya managing director greenhouse pioneer

1. Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Onya – what’s its mission? 

To create responsible and sustainable reusable alternatives to replace single use plastic and empower individuals to reduce their waste.

2. What drives you? 

I was born into a blessed life.  Loving family, roof over my head, food on the table every day, parents that encouraged me to be what I wanted to be even if it wasn’t conventional.

This fuelled something powerful inside of me that with all those blessings and good fortune to be born where I was to who I was, I wanted to give back.

I never had a strong idea about how to best achieve that goal until I was presented with a powerful opportunity, in the form of Onya.

Through Onya, every day I live that dream of being able to give back and help both individuals and businesses to make positive changes not just for themselves but also for the planet.

It is incredibly rewarding to be part of the solution to help combat the issue of plastic pollution, and the satisfaction in knowing what we do is making a difference, keeps me coming back for more.

3. What is your greatest achievement to date? 

Everyday across 33 different countries across the planet, Onya products are being sold. It is through our customers supporting our purpose to reduce single use plastic that in 2018 alone 19.54 tonnes of plastic waste was diverted from landfill to make Onya products. That is equal to the weight of more than 122 Green Sea Turtles, and something we are very proud of. Our goal is to increase this positive impact year on year.

4. What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

We will shortly be re-launching one of our original products in the range, called the Side Bag. 

Our Side Bags have not been available for a few years now, but due to customer demand, we decided that a range refresh was needed and we look forward to launching them in the next few months!

5. What are the challenges you face?

Green washing is probably one of our biggest threats right now.

Due to the massive increase in awareness around the issue of plastic pollution over the past few years, it is natural to see new products come to the market.

What we have a problem with is many of these companies have no transparency around their products, production processes and end of life solutions, they are simply jumping on a bandwagon, but after 15 years in business we have proved we are in it for the long haul.

Amongst many other things we love about what we do, we are proud of our long history of following our raw materials back to source and ensuring they are procured responsibly. We also ensure our workers are treated ethically and paid a living wage & all our manufacturing partners pass the global standards for social and environmental audits. Through our partnership with Terracycle we also provide an end of life solution for our products ensuring that they never have to enter the waste stream.

Sometimes this attention to detail means our products may not be the cheapest in the marketplace, but we think the planet is worth the extra effort.

6. Where do you want to take Onya next? 

Having re-launched into the UK market in the past few months, we are looking forward to deepening our ties to this market and developing new ones across the EU region.

Once we have established our market in the UK/EU we want to be able to stretch our wings to the USA where demand for Onya products is growing at a fast pace.

7. What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

In the space I operate in, there is so much individuals can do to make a difference when it comes to plastic pollution and waste reduction.

My biggest tip would be to find one area of waste that you think you could quite easily reduce – this could be exchanging single use plastic produce bags at the supermarket for reusable ones. Once you have mastered this and you have formed a habit, challenge yourself to reduce waste in another area and simply continue that pattern.

I have certainly found it to be true for myself that once I start looking at ways to reduce waste, particularly around single use plastic, there is opportunity to do this everywhere.

Reducing single use plastic can become a little obsessive once you start!

8. Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

Although originally penned in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People has always had a special place in my heart.

9. How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?

That is probably for others to answer, but what I would hope what we are doing at Onya is empowering individuals to take on a massive global issue like plastic pollution and make changes in their life to reduce their impact.

Every person doing this adds up to a massive global whole and it is not about being perfect.

As the saying goes “we don’t need a few hundred people reducing their waste perfectly, we need millions doing it imperfectly”

Our goal is to inspire others to reduce their plastic waste in any way they can, even if it isn’t perfect.

10. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

My ex-boss and business mentor taught me a technique to handle confrontations in the workplace in a calm focussed manner.  He called it “problem, impact, solution” and I still use this technique to resolve issues whether it be personal or business related to this day and it has never failed to surprise me with the positive results I get from using it.

11. What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

Usually it is whatever I have playing on the radio which is highly likely to be 70’s or 80’s classic rock as my parents instilled this type of music into me at a young age, and I still love it!

12. Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Just like millions of others on the planet it would probably be David Attenborough. Not only has he been present my whole life, but it is through his gentle approach to introducing people to the natural world and environment that has given us all a greater sense of connection to the Earth and our place in it and perhaps more importantly, our role in caring for it.

If you are a pioneer involved in creating more sustainable future and have a story to tell, we would love to hear from you.

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