AN Edinburgh innovator behind an eco-friendly dog waste bag, which has already gained the support of Sir Richard Branson, is hoping the Scottish packaging sector can help make the product closer to home.
George Greer co-founded Project Harmless in 2021, after being left shocked by the amount of intact waste bags washed up on the northern shore of Loch Long whilst out on a walk with his dog.
Despite coming from a background in the finance sector and describing himself as never having been an eco-warrior, he was determined to find a solution. This urge was exacerbated after he came across a 2019 University of Plymouth study which revealed biodegradable plastic bags were capable of carrying full loads of shopping after being exposed to soil and/or water for three years.
“I had a headache and after taking paracetamol I was thinking about the film material (on the pill) that dissolves in your stomach and how it’s the same principle as a washing tablet that holds powder or liquids,” George told Packaging Scotland. “So, I thought, ‘Can you repurpose that type of material for a dog waste bag?’”
Working alongside friend and co-founder Ka Ho Wong, a manufacturer in China was identified as being able to use the medical grade material to create dog waste bags. Explaining that the liquid present in landfills will quickly disintegrate and then biodegrade the bags due to their water reactive make-up, they are also medical grade toxin-free, which George added is maybe a reason why a large portion of the Project Harmless customer base comprises individuals from a medical background, as they know about the material and appreciate the innovation.
Because water activates the biodegrading process, George revealed the bags will quickly break up and disintegrate if they enter waterways, while the non-toxin and microplastic-free makeup means marine life and the human food chain isn’t impacted.
The dreaded waste bags hanging from trees are also combatted, with one Project Harmless customer hanging a bag from a tree in their garden to document it shrinking and falling off to disintegrate after just five days in mid-winter. The company doesn’t advocate hanging them from trees, but George said he understands people often forget to collect them on the way back from walks.
“The question everyone has is, ‘Is the bag going to dissolve on me?’ Our bag is good for a walk for a couple of hours, as long as there’s not a thunderstorm which could be a problem,” George explained. “Basically, if you’re walking in normal rain and you put it in a bin within an hour or so, you’ll be okay.”
Perhaps the company’s most famous advocate is Sir Richard Branson, who met George earlier this year to hear about the Project Harmless offering. Afterwards, Sir Richard wrote on his blog that Project Harmless ‘really stood out’, adding, ‘it’s such an everyday item that every dog walker needs; so, it’s great to see it reinvented to be kinder to the planet’. “We really appreciate Sir Richard’s support and shoutout,” George added. “You talk to some people about dog waste bags and they start to smile or laugh, or they want to make a joke and infantise it. Maybe that’s why we’re in this situation, because the subject matter isn’t taken seriously enough…but the subject matter cannot be ignored if It’s having a major impact on the planet.”
With an estimated 10 billion waste bags used in the UK annually, George hopes of government intervention similar to what was seen with supermarket shopping bags.
“I think it’s inevitable,” he replied, when asked if he believes there will be a ‘light-switch’ moment whereby dog waste bag litter is deemed a crisis the same way marine plastic was following Sir David Attenborough’s documentaries.
“The western world is easing out single-use carrier shopping bags because they’re bad for the planet, so why are we allowing the exponential growth of the same material for dog waste bags? It just doesn’t make sense.”
Despite being able to build up a steady customer base, being stocked in farm and community shops, launching a travel pack that has been adopted by a London hotel, and partnering with Edinburgh brand Stocky & Dee to create bespoke Scottish wool pouches for the bags, George revealed questions have been raised over the pricing of the bags, which come in at £18.50 for 100 in a waterproof tin container or £14 for 100 on subscription.
“People think we’re expensive primarily because the degradable bags – the shopping bag types – are so cheap. I’m sure some are aware of the environmental impact, but they put that in the back of their mind because there’s no shame in buying degradable bags.
“Our material is actually five-six times more costly to produce than compostable material, so we are not making a large profit margin, but if looked at in a different context, this is only the cost of one takeaway coffee per week, which most people don’t think twice about!”
Revealing he is currently working with a partner on a UK collaboration which could be ‘quite high-profile’, George is turning his attention to the Scottish packaging sector with hopes that the bags can be made in this country to support Scotland’s economy, cut down on the environmental impact of shipping, and because of his own pride in running a Scottish brand.
“Scotland has such a unique heritage so it’s good to be able to talk about it and leverage it, and I think Scotland itself is quite a powerful brand,” he added. “If you have a brand DNA that’s based in Scotland, and you can start to collaborate and do other things with Scottish companies then it creates a powerful eco-system that helps everyone, and it becomes quite exportable because then you have a very distinct story and heritage outside of Scotland.
“I would love for the bags to be manufactured in Scotland, but I don’t know anyone who can do it. So, this is a call out to any Packaging Scotland reader to please get in contact if they think they can do it.”
• If you think you can help manufacture Project Harmless bags in Scotland, or know anyone who can, contact George at G.Greer@ProjectHarmless.com