Wellington-born, Auckland-based entrepreneur Jayden Klinac is no stranger to environmental crusading having co-founded Honest Coffee Company in 2014 in a bid to rid Kiwi kitchens of those ghastly coffee pods and replace them with biodegradable alternatives instead. Having now established social enterprise For The Better Good, the 29-year-old has throwaway plastic bottles in his crosshairs, and his ambition and passion for the planet remains infectiously undimmed.
“I guess my overarching vision now is of helping humanity live more harmoniously with nature,” says Jayden, “but at the time it was about getting oil out of plastics that didn’t need to be there. Henry Ford discovered way back in the day that things made of hydrocarbons can also be made from carbohydrates.”
And so For The Better Good produces entirely biodegradable, multi-use bottles filled with New Zealand spring water and made from corn, potatoes and sugarcane—resulting in a 78 percent smaller carbon footprint than their petrochemical counterparts. For The Better Good bottles are stocked in stores such as Huckleberry Organics as well as cafes, gyms and yoga studios throughout the country.
Jayden’s ‘road to Damascus’ moment came on the road between Auckland and Wellington. “I didn’t have a reusable bottle with me so I stopped at a petrol station for a drink,” he says. “I walked up to the fridge and was frustrated to see that every single bottle of water was made out of oil-based plastics. I didn’t want to support the oil industry.”
(Jayden does acknowledge the irony of him also traversing North Island in a “car that’s running on oil”, but every little helps.)
“And so, from that point on, it became about offering people the choice,” he continues. “I have learnt so often that humans want to do good, we just need to provide them with the opportunity to do so.”
With that in mind, For The Better Good has set up a network of 250-plus refill stations around the country where customers can top up their water bottles for free, plus dozens of further sites were the bottles can be collected to be composted. For Jayden’s goal goes way beyond simply creating a plastic-free environment—he’s creating a system that shifts us from simply being ‘sustainable’ to being ‘regenerative’.
“If we’re making something and putting it out into the world, we want to take responsibility to ensure that we get it back,” he says. “And if everyone was doing that there would be no such thing as waste. People wouldn’t be making the cheapest materials they could because they would realise that they have to give it back, so they might as well make something of value and use it as a resource. This whole idea of waste is what humans invented as a convenience.”
Initially, it’s highly disconcerting holding a half-rotten ‘plastic’ bottle covered in soil, but once your mind catches up it soon computes the commonsensical beauty of this plant-based product composting to aid the growth of more greenery. For The Better Good is also diverting food waste from landfill to its composting sites while setting up organic gardens to grow food that’s donated to the charity WELLfed.
“It’s what nature has done since the beginning of time,” says Jayden. “A tree grows out of the ground, and grows a leaf which it uses to feed itself through photosynthesis. It doesn’t just use the leaf for a day, drop it off, and grow a new one, nor does it make the leaf indestructible. It uses the leaf over time and when it’s done with it, it’s dropped and turns to compost and becomes part of the cycle of the tree growing a new one. That’s what our system is based on.”
That, and the fundamentals of good design—a subject that Jayden studied at Otago University.
“We were taught to see every problem as an opportunity. Everything is designed, so if something is designed into a problem, it can be designed into an opportunity that can be improved upon. That’s what first happened with the coffee capsules. I realised that we could just do this better.”
Jayden expresses his frustration at our willingness to use finite resources “when there are renewable resources out there”. The first step, he says, needs to be reusing items until the end of their life cycle, to “become an owner, not a consumer”. Then, return it to where it should go, to ensure it doesn’t wind up in a landfill or the ocean.
“That then puts the power in the consumers’ hands,” says Jayden. “That’s now your choice. You now have a bottle you can choose to return to us and know that it’s going to be composted. So suddenly, you’re empowered.”
Eventually, Jayden hopes to see communities take the lead in their own composting schemes, growing their own food and cutting down on the need for trucks.
“We have to approach this holistically,” he concludes. “It’s not just about getting oil out of plastics, but examining the system as a whole and realising the interconnectedness of everything. Composting food and growing food locally is a huge huge step that we can take very easily.”