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Kiwi initiative wins in the environmental and disability stakes

Some of the Will&Able team, from left, Shayan, Lisa, Stephen, Kaneesha, Mosiah, Monique, Thomas and Hilton.
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Environmentally-friendly cleaning products packaged in recycled milk bottles are providing meaningful work for people with disabilities in New Zealand.

Auckland-based Will&Able is a social enterprise with a mission to create jobs for people with disabilities and help the environment at the same time.

They take the eco concept a step further, providing a ‘return-to-sender’ service so customers can return the used containers to be recycled into something useful, rather than ending up in a landfill.

Will&Able says it is the only eco range of cleaning products in New Zealand that uses 100 per cent recycled New Zealand milk bottles filled and packed by people with disabilities. The profit they make from sales goes directly to creating more jobs and work for people with disabilities.

Will&Able offers five eco cleaning products in their range – hand soap, dish liquid, laundry liquid, toilet cleaner and a multi-purpose cleaner.

Building a business with inside knowledge 

“The CEO and general manager of Will&Able both have sons with a disability so they know what it’s like for someone with a disability to want to feel included but struggle to find a job.

“They wanted to create a scalable business model that would help create jobs for more people with disabilities, while doing good by the environment. Hence, Will&Able was born,” says marketing co-ordinator, Maya Jaros.

Currently, Will&Able recruit employees from Altus Enterprises, its parent organisation, who have the skills and are keen to be involved but they will soon be able to employ new people from outside the company.

Maya says that through personal interviews with employees they have found that across the board, it has helped employees feel they have a community to belong to, a purpose to strive for, a reason to get out of the house, a place to learn and a job to take pride in.

They are happy to have a job where they feel useful, can make friends, develop confidence and more financial freedom.

“We want to establish a business long term that is owned and operated by people with disabilities and not limited by any constraints, with the goal of employing as many disabled people as possible, not only in Auckland but in the rest of New Zealand as well.”

A face on every bottle

In the factory every bottle is filled by hand. The workers put the lids and caps on by hand and also label every bottle by hand.

The Will&Able collection of eco-friendly cleaning products. The people with disabilities who package your product are also the ‘face’ on each bottle.

Will&Able is working towards a business that is owned and operated by people with disabilities across a variety of levels, including employee, management and board levels.

We are working towards a business model which allows us to pay all our workers the minimum wage, however this requires cash flow from sales to fund,” Maya says.

“Currently, some of our employees are paid with a minimum wage exception permit. These people receive money through a combination of the benefit, other government payments and their income from working with us. We need the help from more customers buying our products to be able to employ people on the minimum wage.

“Once we have a steady cash-flow we will be able to achieve this. We have created a social enterprise for this very reason – to ensure we can develop a sustained flow of financial resources without government intervention to be able to pay people the minimum wage and to employ greater numbers of people with disabilities who really need and want a job.”

People love the concept

Maya says the response to the products has been very positive.

“We have had great feedback on the products with a number of people saying how much they love the concept and how unique the opportunity is. Customers like that they now have a way to help people with disabilities and get an eco-friendly cleaning product at the same time.

The ‘return to sender’ scheme enables used bottles to be recycled into something useful, rather than ending up in a landfill.

“We have also had a high up-take of our return-to-sender programme in which customers can choose to pay $2 extra to have their bottles returned for up-cycling after use. We guarantee that the bottles will be made into other useful materials such as deck flooring.”

This is one example of some customer feedback:

“I am very happy with the products that you sent to me. All well-packaged and very smart looking bottles. Well done and thank you. I also want to say I have been married for nearly 54 years, so an ‘experienced’ cleaner!! I am very impressed with the quality of your products.

“The dish liquid leaves plates shiny and streak-free. I shall look forward to repeat orders from you. Very pleased that one of my daughters recommended Will& Able; now all my three girls use the products too.”

Will&Able is also attracting interest from corporate organisations, motels and schools.

Their goal is to employ 100 people with disabilities by 2021.

“We need more on-going members to help us get there! We have purchased a factory in Papatoetoe that we will be able to expand to in a couple years’ time and we are hopeful that our sales will allow us to do so,” Maya says.

Maya says the Will&Able starter pack is ideal for those who care for the environment or are hard to buy for, and the pack is also a great gift idea for the holidays.

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For more information:

To go to the Will&Able website click here 

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