Kiwi start-up on a mission to reduce pets’ global plastic ‘paw-print’

Plastic Free Pets founder Steph Kernot with her cat Naby. Photo supplied

When Steph Kernot welcomed a second cat into her home in 2020, one of the first things the animal-lover did was head to the shops to purchase toys, bowls, accessories and a bed for her furry friend.

However, the shopping trip did not go as expected. Steph returned home with a couple of items, leaving much of what she’d seen behind at the shop. Disappointed by the amount of plastic used to make animal accessories and toys, not to mention the plastic packaging, she began exploring other options.

“There are many amazing plastic free alternatives now for us humans, but what I discovered was that pets weren’t catered for in the same way as we are,” explains Steph, a former student at Botany Downs Secondary College.

“Anyone who has a pet will understand that they are a special part of the family and therefore they should be provided with products that are safe, fun and educational.”

Steph grew increasingly concerned about the impact her furry friends would have on her household’s environmental footprint.

“There are a lot of single use items for pets, such as plastic toys, that once chewed or used for a period of time, get thrown into the rubbish bin and end up in landfill. Our purchasing choices for animals are contributing to the environmental issues!”

When she started delving deeper, she was shocked to learn about the detrimental effect that plastic materials – many containing lead, BPAs and Phthalates – could also have on her animals’ health.

The toxins present in plastic and synthetic fibres can be extremely harmful to animals, in the same way they would be harmful to humans.

During the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, Steph decided to take the matter into her own hands and launched Plastic Free Pets, in collaboration with her business partner Andrea Pillay.

She started designing handcrafted natural products for animals – hessian sack dog beds filled with natural woollen fibres, vintage cane basket cat beds, rope toys, cat scratching panels and dog leads made from sustainable fibres. All products in the Plastic Free Pets range are made in New Zealand.

Steph ensures all her products, packaging and transportation parcels do not contain any plastic or harmful additives, making them good for each pet owner, their pets and the planet.

“I’m not your typical ‘greenie’. I’ve always worked in brand and marketing, predicting the next trends and where the market is at. Creating and eco-friendly pet store fills a gap in the market. Our products are totally plastic-free so our clients don’t need to worry about the environmental impact of their purchases.”

Steph, who spends her time living between Flat Bush and the Coromandel town of Whitianga, where she also runs Peninsula Marketing Solutions, is on a mission to make plastic-free products for pets accessible to everyone.

“By using our products, animals can also play their part in helping reduce waste and improve sustainability. There is nothing like this in the market and nothing like this in NZ. There’s an opportunity for change and I think a lot of Kiwis will get behind it as they are really taking on the Zero waste and anti-plastic movement.”

In addition to developing a range of practical and safe plastic-free pet products, Plastic Free Pets has designed its range with interior style in mind. Feline cat scratch pads can be attached to the walls of a home, blending in with the décor and dog beds sit nicely in the corner of a room or complement an outdoor space.

“Our designs are both easy on the environment – and the eye! I love interior design and therefore every piece we have created has been designed with love to fit in with modern interiors and look amazing in the home while being educational for pets and are made to last.”