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Meet Isabel Aagaard, co-founder of LastSwab, an easy to clean, sanitary and re-usable alternative to the cotton swab that is polluting our oceans

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Each year, tons of single-use plastic products are discarded without a second thought, only to end up in the ocean, harming wildlife. Meet Isabel Aagaard, co-founder of LastSwaban easy to clean, sanitary, a re-usable alternative to the cotton swab that is polluting our oceans.

Cotton Swabs

Image Credit: Gadini via Pixabay

A month ago, the UK government took steps to eradicate the dangers of plastic pollution by banning all plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers in 2020.

The announcement was made after recent research showed the ghastly environmental impact of these single-use items.

Used cotton buds with a plastic spindle are often disposed of in toilets meaning they then escape through sewage and mix with water bodies. This is one of the reasons cotton buds remain one of the most pervasive forms of marine pollution.

Not only has this research sparked the UK government to take action and switch to more eco-friendly alternatives, but it also inspired others like Aagaard and her partners to think further. Aagaard herself studied a post-graduate degree in 'Collaborative Design' – a new way of looking at design using mixed methods from design and the social sciences. During this time, she co-designed a re-usable home treatment chemotherapy bag, which aims to improve the experience of home chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia patients.

 LastSwab Founder

Image Courtesy of LastSwab.

Along with two other partners, brother Nicolas Aagaard and Kåre Frandsen,  she then went on to bring the project 'LastSwab’ to life. This included a very successful Kickstarter campaign which at this stage has gained more than 19,000 backers, with nearly £575,000 pledged in aid of the project.

The product itself comes in two versions – a 'Standard' and a 'Make-up' swab - and is available in many different colours.

The National Student had the chance to speak with Aagaard about how the project began and what her hopes are for the future of LastSwab. She says:

“A year ago we all said 'Let's join forces' and see how the three of us can come together and make something that is more for the environment than just for the design aspect of it. That was kind of the dream. Then we started investigating what really had an impact and what was very polluting. 

"Our vision is to eliminate all single-use plastic or single-use items in general. That was our research base before we started designing.

“The use of single-use anything, we just found out that it is something that we can design our way out of. Our vision from the beginning was to make a company that was based on 'last items'. LastSwab came out of that. I love that other people are starting to make these single-use items bio-degradable and compostable. It's great, but it's still not affecting. We believe that the most environmental thing you can do is something where durability is the key. 

The product and the idea behind it were an instant success from the beginning.

“We had been working on a lot of different ideas, and this was the first where we felt like 'We got something here!'. I think two weeks before we launched, we did an email collection. This went really well. Very quickly, before we even launched our Kickstarter, we had 35,000 email subscribers.

"We were very excited to see how much we could collect during that Kickstarter phase. We put the funding target as what it would cost for the tooling and to get that first batch running. We did not expect it would go that well - we were funded in 22 minutes! That was crazy.

Last Swab product

Image Courtesy of LastSwab

Aagaard spoke to me about the health side of the product: “What we were worried most about was that people would be like 'Ew, that is not sanitary' or that it is just a gross product.  That was an early concern: Is this going to be a product that is only going to hit this sustainable core group of people, or can we hit it quite broad? It was very important for us to then put a focus on this exactly. I was surprised when we actually launched how little response we got to this. There was some, but not very much. People were more pro-active, like 'How can I clean it?'.

I asked Aagaard what the plan was for the future. She replied, “I think right now we are just hoping to get into as many countries as possible and get the word out there so that it becomes something that people will have to get into a big chain so that it could market itself. We talked about it the other day, what would happen if we would get into Wholefoods in the US. That would be amazing. I also like that all these shops now can get it, and it can become a local thing, and we can get a few 'local heroes' that drive the message. We really just want to see this organically grow. We want to be simple in all the approaches that we do and then get on designing the next product. If we can introduce something for a collection with the community that is now growing - we can really start growing a collection of 'last items'.”

Aagaard has advice for anyone considering designing a new product. She says:

“I think it is so important that you test everything that you do. You want the product out there, especially if you are making something sustainable. Involve as many people as possible. Do not be afraid of critique or being edited because that is perfect. That is exactly what you need.

Aagaard also warned not to take criticisms too heavily, "Don't take everything in either. We have been told throughout this journey 'That's stupid' or 'Stop putting money and time into this'. 

Image Courtesy of LastSwab

And for anyone that feels uncertainty about joining the movement towards zero-waste and re-usable items, Aagaard has some words of encouragement, too. She says:

“You do not have to be perfect. You do not have to have everything in a jar. It is better that we all just do a little than a few do everything. If you see that your amount of cotton swabs is huge, then this is the product for you. I do not think it is going to make the same environmental difference for everybody. I think it is very about what do you use. Find out where your footsteps are and find out what you are using too much energy and resources on. I think everybody should live their life how they want to, but it is amazing how little you can do to make a big difference."

The Kickstarter campaign for LastSwab is on-going, and more information and the option to sign up to the newsletter can be found on the project’s official page.

Lead Image Credit: Courtesy of LastSwab




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