Plastic in Paradise: How a Trip to South Asia Inspired an Environmentally Conscious Retail Destination to Help Consumers Shop by Ethics
When eTHikel founder Amerjit Briah uncovered the dirty secrets of the UK’s waste management system, she created a solution for concerned shoppers, matching them with ethical brands they can trust
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
“When I was growing up, my parents bought things that were expected to last a lifetime, but we no longer have that expectation today, and we’ve become accustomed to replacing items often – for convenience or aesthetics”.
24 August 2021
It was during a trip to South Asia in 2018 that eTHikel founder Amerjit Briah saw the devastating consequences of plastic pollution first-hand. It was an instant awakening. What was portrayed to be paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean was in fact a catalyst for mountains of pollution, created mainly by luxury holiday dwellers, threatening the beautiful coral reefs and sea life. After uncovering the dirty secrets hiding behind the region's main tourist destinations, Briah turned inwards and reflected on the UK’s waste management system, as well as its population’s purchasing choices.
A 2019 study by the BBC revealed that two-thirds of the UK’s plastic waste was sent overseas to be recycled – with China importing most of the world's plastic waste until January 2018. When China’s waste import fell by 94% due to concerns about contamination and pollution, Malaysia, Turkey, Poland and Indonesia picked up the slack. From November 2017 to October 2018 alone, Indonesia had received 63,000 tonnes of plastic waste from the UK.
So what can we do, as concerned UK residents, to adopt a more sustainable behaviour and stop contributing to the planet’s plastic problem, and who can we trust?
These are all questions that Briah, a successful fintech lawyer and mother of two based in North London, asked herself before launching eTHikel, an environmentally conscious online marketplace in January 2021.
“After this experience in South Asia, I decided to make a change in my life, but also in my career,” says Briah. “I wanted to create a marketplace that helps customers make the right decisions. Living sustainably and ethically is challenging, so I wanted to help people easily identify with the ethics that most resonate with them – such as vegan, carbon reduced, organic, plastic free or ethically produced.”
When it comes to sustainable living, trust and transparency are key factors – with a 2020 study revealing that only 20% of consumers actually trusted brands’ sustainability claims. This is where Briah, a former legal counsel for Paypal, comes in. “We have four pillars guiding us: honesty, trust, respect and transparency,” she explains. “As consumers and as a society, there is so much that we can achieve by following these simple principles. I want to build honest and trusting relationships with people that respect each other and their environment, and it starts with the sellers. I want them to be transparent about their products with regards to sourcing and their manufacturing process.”
Amerjit Briah, founder of eTHikel
Briah therefore built a platform where customers can shop fashion, beauty, furniture, gifts and even food and drink by “ethics” – making the effort to vet brands on their behalf, and thoroughly researching how and where products are produced. “We all live in such a fast-paced world, where fast fashion, fast food and fast production in general, have become the norm,” she says. “I want to work with sellers that have slowed this down by focusing on whether they are using sustainable resources and finding ways to reduce the environmental damage caused by producing their products.”
With the recent IPCC report confirming yet again the climate catastrophe that awaits us, consumers finally seem more inclined to make changes that last – and in all parts of their lives. But for how long? “There certainly has been a shift, but we still have a long way to go, because the majority of individuals are still drawn into fast consumerism,” says Briah. “When I was growing up, my parents bought things that were expected to last a lifetime, but we no longer have that expectation today, and we’ve become accustomed to replacing items often – for convenience or aesthetics”.
eTHikel is a convenient resource for Generation X and millennials wishing to lower their impact on the planet after learning from their parents’ environmental mistakes the hard way. That particular demographic now ‘votes with their wallet’, and publicly calls out greenwashing when they spot it, turning away from the brands that failed them. And with Generation Z certainly eager to fix the climate issue for pure survival, an even wider market has emerged for conscious brands, but they can sometimes be hard to find – due to a lack of marketing funding or being diluted in a sea of information online. But eTHikel matches them with customers who truly want to make a difference and stop repeating errors of the past.
In under a year, eTHikel already features a collection of over 2000 products on site, all designed to make ethical living more accessible, and directly sold and delivered by over 80 sellers – with latest additions including customer favourites Boody, Inika Organic, Watson & Wolfe and 1 People. All brands offering sustainable alternatives for everyday or luxury products.
The business itself was inspired by Briah’s own children, and her family’s journey navigating ethical living after that very same trip in 2018. “My children were really affected by the damage they saw on that family holiday, and it sparked a conversation about plastic pollution and climate change”, says Briah. “It had a profound impact on them, even though they were only six and four years old at the time. They immediately started to take more notice of single-use plastic, and asked for reusable alternatives.”
Briah made gradual changes to her family’s lifestyle, something she regularly encourages others to do through the company’s Journal, always with a non-preaching approach. “I practiced quite an ethical lifestyle already without even realising, but over the last couple of years, we’ve stopped using single use plastic,” says Briah. “We now never leave the house without a water bottle or a shopping bag to carry anything we may buy while we’re out and about, and we’ve replaced our hand soap dispensers with soap bars.”
But the real changes are the ones that last, and that the new generation adopts early on. “My children are extremely environmentally conscious, and my son has become our household light monitor, ensuring all lights are switched off when a space in the house is not in use” she says.
Briah is also aware of the ‘eco pain points’ still in place, and how the option of sustainability varies from one culture to the next. “In developed nations, it’s really difficult to live a totally ethical lifestyle, because of the lack of transparency and information,” she explains. “In the UK and many other privileged countries around the world, there is greater emphasis on the economic status, rather than the environmental impact. In developing countries however, there is a growing trend of pursuing a middle-class lifestyle and acquiring goods that fit this ethos, but these products are not always environmentally friendly.”
But Briah refuses to fall into the trap of climate panic. “I believe everyone should work towards being climate positive,” she shares. “The shock factor of environmental impact and climate change has been evident for years, but sometimes I wonder whether people are becoming desensitised to news stories. Very recently we’ve seen extreme temperatures in Canada, and floods in Europe, however people didn’t seem to be paying as much attention to those”.
With eTHikel, Briah believes in making small changes and focusing on what can be done rather than what can’t. “I firmly believe that small changes do add up, and eventually will make a significant difference,” she says. "If everyone did the same, we may start to make some progress in reversing the devastating changes that the human race has already inflicted on our planet – In the meantime we will continue to spread the word, and hope to make a positive impact on consumerism.”