Q&A: Advocating for sustainable oral care at home and beyond

For this week’s feature, we had a chance to talk to Shannon and Stu Nixon, the husband and wife team behind SmidgeCo, an oral care brand that focuses on creating sustainable oral hygiene products from bamboo toothbrushes to fluoride toothpaste in biodegradable tubes. As longtime sustainability advocates, Shannon and Stu have made it their mission to help create a positive impact on the environment, even if it is just a little…or a smidge. Their efforts have also led them beyond Australia’s shores as they are active in helping improve oral hygiene in Africa as well.

ISB: What inspired you to first go on a sustainability path?

Shannon: Stu and I have always been active people, whether it’s scuba diving, mountain biking or just exploring, but over the years we started noticing our impact as humans on the environment, and not in a good way. So, we began making small changes at home, swapping out plastic bin liners for compostable ones, zip lock bags for reuseable or compostable ones etc. Our approach was what small changes can we make in our own lives that are easy to make, but cumulatively could make a big difference.

ISB: Why did you choose the sphere of oral care for your start-up?

Stu: When thinking about what we use every day and how we can make an easy swap out for non-plastic alternatives, we realised that there were plastic items we used every day, without even giving it a second thought, our toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. We did some research and found that our daily dental routine has caused a huge plastic waste problem, with around 32 billion plastic toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes going into landfill every year, let alone what ends up in our oceans. We began looking for alternatives, and after not being able to find a suitable replacement, we decided to create one.

ISB: How do you ensure every product of SmidgeCo is earth-friendly?

Shannon: We did a lot of research on suppliers and manufacturers, all of whom adhere to various internationally recognised sustainability standards. We specifically wanted a biodegradable tube, this creates a more frictionless engagement with consumers as they can throw the tube in the normal rubbish bin, it reduces the production of plastic, and biodegrades within 6-10 years in landfill without microplastics. Our bamboo toothbrushes and floss are biodegradable, all the product packaging is recyclable. We even ensure our delivery packaging is sustainable, our protective delivery bags to our stickers are compostable, and our delivery partner is carbon neutral.

ISB: How important is it for you to introduce sustainable oral care to places such as Africa?

Stu: Being originally from South Africa, we’ve seen first-hand the impact not having access to dental products/services has on communities. Across Africa, over 400 million people suffer from some form of oral disease, and it’s proven that good oral health is important for good general health. There is a severe lack of dental services across Africa, e.g. Malawi’s population is slightly smaller than ours, 19 million, and they have around 56 dentists, we have over 16,000. Dental pain in kids is the number one reason for school absenteeism, which has lifelong health and societal impacts, and in the most extreme cases, oral disease can lead to disfigurement and even death in young children. So, for us, being able to partner with NGOs that are helping those communities, through product donation/percentage of profits, is very important.

ISB: What is your vision for SmidgeCo for the next couple of years?

Shannon: Our aim is to start becoming a recognisable name synonymous with awesome sustainable oral hygiene products, known for making products that look good, feel good and do good, with the goal of being able to show the environmental impact our customers are making by swapping their plastic dental routine to a SmidgeCo sustainable one. Regularly donating to our NGO partners and seeing the positive outcomes being achieved, from communities in need to environmental causes. We believe all of this is possible, if everyone believes that if they just did a smidge, they can make a difference.

ISB: What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned in this entrepreneurial journey that aspiring entrepreneurs should take to heart?

Stu: However long you think it’ll take to get moving, it will generally always take longer. Be patient, be relentless in your mission, be humble and remember to also have some fun.