We all know that single-use plastic is detrimental to the environment, some to a greater degree than others perhaps. However, in Ireland, avoiding using single-use plastics can be challenging at best, not to mention expensive. Nonetheless, the tides are slowly turning, with taxes, infrastructure and mindsets slowly beginning to shift away from single-use plastics towards more sustainable solutions.
One Irish company playing a part in this movement is Narcis’sips, a company offering affordable reusable cups and bottles. Founded in 2018 by Cathal O’Reilly, the company’s website now boasts 25 options to choose from, ranging from 1000ml stainless steel bottles to coffee cups and tumblers. I chatted to the founder Cathal about the initiative, what prompted him to set up the business and how he copes with the workload on top of his job as a Financial Services Consultant in PwC.
The first thing that grabbed my attention when browsing the company’s website was their mission; to “motivate and enable people to understand the benefits of choosing reusables for your pocket, your health and ultimately, the environment to work toward a greener Ireland”. I found this to be a genuinely noble goal, which is not often the case in business. I asked Cathal how he came about setting up a business such as Narcis’sips. “It was Easter time in 2018 and like many sport-oriented people, my car was covered in single-use plastic bottles from various training sessions throughout the week. At the same time, it was highlighted to me by a close friend how detrimental single-use plastic bottles were to the environment, and sadly at the time, I was clueless but also horrified at the negative implications directly associated with plastic bottles. From then, I made it my mission to go buy a reusable bottle and start reducing my personal impact regarding one small part of the plastic problem”.
There was only one problem with that; the prices of reusable bottles, especially back in 2018. To Cathal’s (and his wallet’s) dismay, branded reusables ranged in price from €35 to €60. Still on a training contract at the time, Cathal found it difficult to justify the price tag, often telling friends he thought that Irish consumers should be able to choose a healthy and sustainable lifestyle at an affordable price.
“In thinking about it deeper in frustration, it wasn’t long before I realised that it made sense environmentally, healthwise, and lastly, financially (typical accountant I know!) to change to reusables and I felt like everyone else should see and think about the benefits too”. Cathal couldn’t comprehend how these brands were “solving a problem”, so to speak, whilst charging abnormally high prices, which stifled any real chance of changing peoples’ behaviours.
For anyone who checks out their website, you’ll notice the Narcis’sips reusables are very stylish. Cathal begins answering this question by addressing the fact that “reusables… have a much higher carbon footprint than plastic, they also have a long supply chain, so it’s estimated that you need to use your reusable at least 55-85 times before you start making a positive impact”.
For them to be reused to this extent, they need to be stylish! Cathal does the branding, packaging, and style selection of the bottles. “I also taught myself how to use Adobe Illustrator, painfully might I add, in a week to design our boxes before the free trial ran out which was tough”. Finally, the company opted to source their products directly from the manufacturers, practicing what they preach by “cutting the supply chain and limiting our own carbon footprint”. That leads to cost savings that could be taken advantage of, but Narcis’sips prefer to pass the savings onto the consumer, opting to charge below-industry prices. “I was and am still lucky enough to have a full-time job so I was never motivated by profit and solely felt at the time, it was the right thing to do”, says Cathal.
On that topic of working for PwC whilst still running Narcis’sips, I was curious how Cathal balanced between work and personal life. “I have no special formula or magic idea but I try to just keep a note of everything in my journal and tick off a couple of ‘must do’ items each day”. He does concede that, nowadays (since finishing studying for professional exams), he strives to “turn off” a bit more, albeit admitting he continues to enjoy the research involved in growing the company. He’s also focusing on time-management, or “trying to kill two plastic bottles with one reusable”, as he puts it. Tools such as One Note and multi-tasking (catching up on emails whilst running errands, for example), help him keep on top of things.
One of my favourite things about the company is the fact that Cathal himself delivers many of the orders made in the Dublin area, by bike. That’d be akin to Jeff Bezos handing you your most recent Amazon purchase! The motive behind this is that “it can save each customer up to €9 per order from An Post postage fees, helps me burn some calories each day, and meet some new people each week. It also reduces our carbon footprint as a company. God bless Dublin Bikes”!
Operating in a crowded market, Cathal tries to ignore what other brands are doing, but admits it’s hard to break into the wholesale markets where these brands leverage their names and history. Instead, Narcis’sips currently focus on smaller companies, with the eventual hope of being stocked in Irish retailers, “as it’s more beneficial regarding our tax system and the environment to choose local and cut out needless emissions from importing and shipping the same products that are available in Ireland”.
Having thought himself the ins-and-outs of founding and running a business, Cathal and his company are now thriving well beyond his original plans. “I had no expectations of it being anything more than a hobby. I only ever saw it as something that would be a good experience for myself, good for the environment, and something that could help generate a small amount of money for some charities across the world for those less fortunate for a couple of months”. It’s fantastic to see such a socially-responsible and environmentally conscious business prospering, and with the quality products they offer, cheap prices and Cathal’s positive attitude, I think many of us will be seeing a lot more of Narcis’sips in the not-so-distant future. You heard it here first!