September 2018, I departed from Belgium to Japan for my exchange year. As soon as I arrived in Tokyo, I was shocked to realise that I was surrounded by plastic. Plastic was everywhere and everything was wrapped in plastic. Plastic bottles given away in plastic bags, vegetables, fruit and snacks, each wrapped individually in plastic wrapping and then wrapped together again into a plastic packaging to be placed into a plastic bag. What about to go drinks in a plastic cup with a plastic top, a plastic straw and even sometimes to be carried in a drink-transportable plastic bag.
As a traveler, I have opened my eyes to see how many toothbrushes are given away everywhere and of course, they are also packed into plastic boxes. Because of such extreme plastic usage, I realised that even Japan is lacking in plastic consciousness in comparison to my home country (Belgium) and to Europe in general, with its overuse of plastic. Europe has still a lot of work to do to reduce plastic consumption, in regards to both single-use plastic as well as long term plastic usage. You probably have seen pictures of the ocean full of plastic all over your social media but have you ever seen it with your own eyes? Because I have and believe me, when you go to remote places where there is no regard for plastic disposal, you want to cry. Because you end up swimming with plastic bottles instead of fish, sunbathing next to plastic toothbrushes and straws instead of coconuts and hiking mountains full of plastic-wrapped items and plastic bags. I know even if you want to change your habits and use less in attempts to convert to a zero plastic waste lifestyle, it is not easy. Believe me, I am trying to improve every day.
Together with two of my close friends; a Danish/ German guy (Niklas Jehle) and a Japanese girl (Kazuna Yamamoto), we have decided to act and create a start-up called “Just Smile” to offer alternatives to plastic items. We do not want to continue blaming society for not offering other alternatives and continue living the same careless plastic life we have lived so far. Moreover, we are tired of waiting for tomorrow to start taking care of our earth, our planet, our home. We want to create an easier way for people to adapt to a more sustainable lifestyle. Moreover, we would like to show that being more green does not have to be boring but can be trendy, fun and stylish.
Just Smile founding team: Kazuna, Niklas, and Helena.
For our first product, launched bamboo toothbrushes in three different designs: round-shaped pink or blue and grey charcoal with a flat bristle design. Since last October, we have been working on finding the best alternative. We have tested the products to ensure that no plastic wrapping was used from the delivery to your door. We have created two different packaging options; 100% biodegradable craft boxes and bamboo travel cases. The second option was created for travellers. Indeed when traveling, your toothbrush can easily get mixed up with toothpaste, shower gel or hair cream. Who would like to use your toothbrush after that? Then, the toothbrush gets thrown away and a new one is bought. For this reason, we created the bamboo travel case to ensure the long term use of your toothbrush.
Our action plan is acting upon society’s wrongdoings and re-thinking our plastic usage to create products that can last longer. We are already working on other projects and ideas. Stay excited!! Our motto is not that plastic should not be used and that we should start using another resource for everything because that will put us in the same position as we are in now. We just believe that plastic is too conveniently unbreakable and so, it should not be used for items that are meant to be thrown out after such little use.
I have grown up hearing that if you want something that does not exist, create it. Let's act together to make our planet great again.
Do not forget to just smile ;)