Tal Chitayat doesn’t just find joy in the simple things—he sees the future in them. It’s part of his job description, as the CEO of Full Circle, a home goods and cleaning supply company that creates sustainable versions of everyday items (naturally dyed organic cotton dish towels, recycled aluminum toilet plungers), and Soma Water, which makes reusable water bottles that look like they belong in an art gallery. Both companies are focused on recreating common household goods to last longer, look sharper, and have less environmental impact.
The son of an Iraqi father who grew up in Israel and a South African mother who grew up in New Zealand, Chitayat was raised in Taiwan in the 1980s during the island’s manufacturing heyday. He was surrounded by a culture that was obsessed with cutting-edge technologies and industry—and producing plastic by the ton. After graduating from high school, he attended college in New York, where he studied international relations and government, and then spent time in his mother’s homeland of New Zealand. By the age of 25, he had witnessed the environmental strain of industry in Asia, experienced the consumer culture of the U.S., and seen the environmental stewardship of New Zealand. “I saw the bad side, the good side, and the way things could be,” he says.
So when he and his partners cofounded Full Circle more than 10 years ago, they started there—with the idea that it was time to create alternative solutions to common problems. And what better market than the cleaning supplies and home goods industries? “We tried to approach a category of products that was not ignored in the market, but that needed to be reinvigorated,” Chitayat says. “Kitchen tools and cleaning supplies are a seemingly boring, not-sexy category, and we wanted to design something that made people say, ‘Whoa, that’s different!’ We wanted to take something that people hide away in their homes and design it to create something people want to leave out.”
They approached the very functional, price-sensitive, and plastic-heavy category with the idea that, design-wise, nothing was off the table. During the R&D process, they explored how to incorporate materials like bamboo, natural loofah, and yucca-derived tampico fibers into their products. Some of the designs stuck (like the bamboo handle of the Bubble Up Brush and the tampico bristles of this veggie-cleaning brush), but some were left behind (goodbye, loofah). By 2009, they were ready to launch—but Chitayat wondered if the U.S. market, in the midst of the recession, was ready for them.
“It [seemed like] quite possibly the worst time to start a company and tell people to spend more just because it’s a sustainable option,” he says. “But in retrospect, it was a great time to start because it made us focus on costs. We had to buckle down and make [products] within reach so that people could and would buy.” They also had to make products that worked. “At first, we were a little naïve—we thought everyone would know the products are better and buy them,” he says. “We had to humble ourselves and realize no one is going to buy our products just because we’re proud of them. They are going to buy them to do what they need to do: to clean their grout and scrub a pot.”
In 2018, Full Circle brought in more than $31 million by developing and designing products that make less work of everyday tasks, from cleaning bathrooms to keeping your composting bin smelling fresh (with self-composting scrap sacks). Soma, which Full Circle acquired in 2017, continues to roll out patent-pending filters made from renewable materials, elegant carafes, reusable water bottles, and has even developed a filter subscription service that delivers replacement filters to your door.
They’re products that Chitayat wants to see in homes all across America, but is just as happy to have in his home in Brooklyn. One of his Full Circle favorites? The original (and cheekily named) Tenacious C cast iron brush. Its reinforced bristles are serious enough for after-baking grime, but sensitive enough to keep his cast iron pans in shape. “We cook with our cast irons constantly, and use this brush every day at home—it helps with all the rice we cook,” Chitayat says. Here, a few more of his favorite products that are redefining eco-friendly design.
6 eco-friendly products that work as well as they look
Full Circle CEO Tal Chitayat on his favorite eco-friendly designs.
LastSwab Reusable Q-Tip
“Most people think, ‘a reusable Q-tip—that’s gross!’ Well, it’s not gross. It’s super easy to clean,” Chitayat says. The LastSwab Q-tip—made from BPA-free silicon, comes in ridged and smooth textures so it’s good for everything from swiping off eyeliner to post-shower ear cleaning. $12
Seedling by Grove Collective Tree-Free Toilet Paper
People love toilet paper. In fact, global TP use contributes to the harvest of 54 million trees worldwide, according to the Worldwatch Institute. But not everyone is ready (or willing to pony up) for a bidet. That’s why tree-free toilet paper alternatives—like Seedling by Grove Collective’s two-ply bathroom tissue, which is made out of sugarcane and bamboo pulp—can change the game. “It’s a perfect alternative for paper products that can’t be replaced,” Chitayat says. $4.95 for a pack of four
FlexCup Menstrual Cup
The FlexCup (which comes with two sex-safe menstrual discs, as well) is a menstrual cup that women can leave in up to 12 hours, use for years, and remove just as easily as a (less earth-friendly) tampon—thanks to a handy release ring. “It’s a great example of how focusing on tampons, toilet paper, Q-tips, and all of the disposable household items we use can make changes that, in five years, we’ll look back on the switch and say, ‘Wow, that was a no-brainer.'” $40
Patagonia P-6 Logo Responsibili-Tee
“Everyone in our office wears Patagonia. We love them and even collaborated with them in the past because we identify with B-Corps—brands that really stand for something.” This T-shirt is made from 100% recycled materials—aka 4.8 plastic bottles and 0.26 pounds of fabric scrap, saving 63 gallons of water per shirt compared with a conventional cotton T-shirt. Starting at $21
Seedling by Grove Tree-Free Paper Towels
These 100% tree-free paper towels are made with bamboo pulp that can absorb spills three times its weight in water. “I test so many products at home, and I go back again and again to Grove Collaborative paper products, which are made of bamboo and sugarcane pulps.” $3.95
Full Circle ZipTuck Bags
Chitayat’s own BPA-free reusable baggies are great for when you’re on the go. “We have a 15-month-old at home, so we’re always carrying around snacks and a surprising number of baby accessories that we don’t need—and these are awesome.” $13.50
Fast Company may receive revenue for some links to products on our site.