Meet Kate Meads from Waste Free with Kate & Co.
For more than 15 years, Kate has passionately provided waste minimisation education to many entities including, Councils.
Sustainability is massively important these days. It is often discussed among influential circles on an international scale. Because of this, Kate and the team feel it’s essential to equip both businesses and the public with practical tools to challenge and re-define waste behaviour.
We asked Kate a few questions to further understand her high-impact business and industry.
Tell us a bit about your background – your career to date, your experience… basically, how what you have done has got you to where you are today.
Having worked in waste minimisation education for over 15 years, I have a unique perspective on what is occurring at a community and council level, coupled with how ‘we’ got there and what needs to happen to bring change. My unique position means I am able to communicate on the latest waste developments and learnings.
In the early days, I was known as The Nappy Lady™ and was passionate about creating a change in behaviour regarding single-use products by encouraging the use of reusable nappies. In 2013, I sold and stepped away from my online reusable nappy business and The Nappy Lady™ to focus solely on waste education.
My team and I create a heightened awareness of our behaviour towards waste through education in businesses and with the public. Waste Free with Kate & Co. delivers corporate and business motivational sessions, ECE professional development workshops, community engagement and internal council education, alongside online workshop programs, public workshop programmes and keynote speaking for Councils.
Recently, I appeared on TVNZ’s 2021 season of Eat Well for Less as a waste expert. In the last two years, I have provided extensive knowledge and expertise to many entities including Southern Cross Health Care, Beef + Lamb NZ, Land Information NZ, Countdown and Air New Zealand, and have been a keynote speaker for several conferences including NZ Institute of Environmental Health and NZ Dental Hygienist conference.
I have also educated thousands of consumers through the 45 councils I work with, and have ongoing work with organisations Para Kore and KidsCan.
When did you start your business? How long have you been operating?
The Nappy Lady™ started in 2006 and has evolved over the years into Waste Free with Kate & Co. The business is a leader in New Zealand on waste minimisation education and behaviour change. The business has run in its different forms for more than 15 years.
Why did you start your own business?
Initially, to simply create a job for myself, and become more financially independent, but also to learn about business.
Tell us about your business: What services do you offer? How can you help our business community?
As well as working with more than 40 Councils around New Zealand, plus countless community organisations, educating on waste minimisation, myself and my team deliver sessions, seminars, workshops, and more to various business and corporate groups.
Sustainability is such a buzzword in both media and business circles at present, meaning it’s more important than ever to make real steps towards a more conscious approach to business and office culture. They ask, what is your company doing to strive for improvement in this area?
We run different workshops for businesses, including:
- The Unwasted ‘Lunch Break’ Workshop – 1 hour online or in person
- Customised ‘Waste Free Workplace’ Workshops tailored to your business – up to 4 hours
- Live Zoom/Video Link Virtual Brainstorm – 1 – 2 hours. Dependent on attendee numbers, these workshops have a degree of interactivity and are personable to your organisation.
- Conference Speaker – DO 1 Thing. This is a highly motivational and humorous session that highlights what the current issues in waste are, and what we can do about it.
What makes your business unique?
Waste Free with Kate & Co is unique in a variety of ways. Firstly, I am one of the most well-connected individuals in New Zealand’s waste/sustainability space.
Through years of working with Councils, organisations, and communities, I have compiled a wealth of knowledge on the ever-evolving industry. Additionally, myself and my team’s approach is a far removal from the ‘tree-hugging’ and ‘alternative’ approach of traditional sustainability education. We understand the challenges facing consumers and businesses alike when looking to make sustainable changes.
When you first got into business, what is the one thing you wish people told you?
That it would take a long time to make an income out of it and that you should listen to (but not necessarily take) all the advice you can from the people around you.
In your first year of business, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
We originally imported nappies from Scotland and then became New Zealand distributors. This was something I had never done before, but we had some mentors through the Tauranga Chamber who helped us design a future path, make some big decisions, and ask big questions that we had never thought of before.
And now, looking back, what have been your biggest learnings?
Business is a constantly changing platform and it is important to move with the times. When I originally started a business selling reusable nappies, I had no idea that it would lead me to the place I am today.
I have been out of the retail industry for nearly 10 years now and I love my job. But it has been a massive personal growth. We have never stopped changing the way we work to make what we do as impactful as possible. Our current goal is to reach the unreachable when it comes to waste minimisation education. I like to constantly challenge me and my teams thinking, so we are always moving forward and working as effective and efficient as possible.
What’s the one misconception people might have about your industry?
Greenwashing plays a massive part in many of the issues around packaging.
The rubbish industry is shrouded with myths and misconceptions, but most of it is not true. Lots of brands create products that claim to be compostable. Literally no packaging products that claim to be compostable can be collected or composted through council services.
Also, the misconception that rubbish is not a problem because it all breaks down in landfills is quite harmful in our efforts to do better for our environment. No rubbish breaks down in landfills; it is potentially there for thousands of years; including products claiming they are biodegradable. Furthermore, the myth that ‘all recycling goes to landfill anyway, so why bother?’. Recycling is recycled, but only if it is done right i.e., washed out and is a plastic / product with an end market.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your business?
We are not greenies… in fact, I drive a V8 and I am open about the fact I am not perfect (and I don’t expect others to be either). We are here to help people understand that simple lifestyle changes will make a massive difference to the overall picture. We don’t all need to be doing it perfectly, we just need everyone to do one thing differently. Collectively we will make massive changes. Me, and the rest of the team at Waste Free with Kate, work every day towards a better tomorrow, and hope to inspire New Zealand and beyond to #Do1Thing.
What are your goals (personal and professional) for the next six to 12 months?
With COVID-19 having a massive impact on our ability to present our in-person workshops, we have dedicated this coming year to focus on providing online courses for Councils and businesses nationwide.
We are currently working on a module learning option for our workshops and are recording some of our older workshops in newer formats. This is so we can offer a diverse platform of learning tools. However, my personal goal is to take care of both myself, and my teams mental health given we are one of the organisations that can’t ‘work normally’ until we are in Level 1.
When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your time?
My hobbies include fishing, golf and spending time with the family. I always out-fish my partner and his mates, so everyone wants to be on my side of the boat.
I am also a member of the Mount Golf Club. I find playing golf one of the most frustratingly relaxing sports, but whenever I am on the course, I never think about work stress.
If you could impart one piece of advice to fellow business owners, what would it be?
Never be afraid to ask for help. Getting a mentor in the early days was invaluable. In fact, it’s probably time to get a new one!