Couple create eco-friendly app that allows parents to swap toys for free

Jason and Emma Ash raised over 500,000 in funding during lockdown to take the app national

Couple create eco-friendly app that allows parents to swap toys for free

Jason and Emma Ash raised over £500,000 in funding during lockdown to take the app national

Parenting can inadvertently be quite harmful to the environment and can involve a great deal of waste and inefficiency. For most parents, eco-friendly items and behaviours aren’t necessarily easy to come by or adopt, and they often come with a higher price tag too, Jason, co-founder of Young Planet, told me. Husband and wife duo, Jason and Emma Ash, both studied at Durham University and gave birth to three wonderful children. Years later, Jason and Emma went to a yard sale in the US where they lived at the time, and their eldest child fell in love with a red fire truck that was on sale. Their young one was so blown away by the toy the seller decided to give it to him for free instead of letting the toy end up in a landfill. The incident sparked the couple’s idea for creating an app, Young Planet, that allows parents to give their children’s old toys a new home, and at the same time reduce waste and save the planet. 

The inspiration for YoungPlanet came to us when we were living in America, Jason said. We went to a yard sale and our eldest son fell in love with a bright red Radio Flyer fire truck. He was so enamoured with it that the seller decided to give it to him for free, pleased that someone else would find so much joy in something their child had previously owned. This experience, coupled with a friend sharing how she’d resorted to putting her children’s toys in the skip because it was the easiest option, sparked the idea for a marketplace that made it simple for busy parents to pass on much-loved toys and children’s stuff, rather than sending these items to landfill or keeping them tucked away in storage because they never get used. 

The app provides a cashless platform based on a sharing economy model, allowing parents to list a range of items to giveaway including books, toys, clothes and more. If more than one person wants the as me item, the app uses a system to prioritise those who need it the most or who have donated items in the past to incentivise a circular system giving. 

Parents are busy and overstretched as it is, so understandably being sustainable and environmentally conscious is often an afterthought, Jason said. YoungPlanet is helping to address this problem. We provide a way for people to do their bit for the environment, whilst also making their lives easier, more efficient and less expensive both in terms of cash and impact. Parents can use the app to declutter sustainably and browse second-hand children’s items from the comfort of their own home – not because they can’t afford to buy new, but because none of us can afford to waste as much as we do. 

Launched in 2019, YoungPlanet is a tech-for-good startup that’s on a mission to make parenting eco-friendly. Through crowdfunding, Jason and Emma were able to raise a total of £398,370 in 2019 and led another successful crowdfunding campaign this year, raising over £500,000 from both private investors and users during lockdown, taking the app national. In just under two years, the app has now has over 44,000 users in London with over 12,000 items listed on the app, creating a community of like-minded parents who believe in reducing waste and reusing valuable items instead of sending them to landfills. 

However, Jason and Emma were faced with obstacles during the lockdown with the fundamental model of their business ‘ exchanging products face-to-face. As a platform that actively encourages people to give and receive items, one of the challenges we faced during the pandemic was how the exchange process would work in such unknown times, Jason said. Many people were fearful about the contact element and the virus being transmitted. At the beginning of the pandemic, people were unaware of how fast or on which surfaces the virus could spread, if at all. This led to us biting the bullet and advising our users not to use the app until we knew more. However, during the second and third lockdown, there was much more known about the virus and the way it could spread, so we advised users on the safest way to exchange items based on what was known at that time. Keeping current was a challenge in and of itself. 

They decided to enforce extra safety and security measures, such as washing and disinfecting of items and also encouraged doorstep collections instead of meeting in person. We have worked hard to ensure our users are giving and receiving items safely and securely, Jason said. We’ve done so by giving each user guidance on how to exchange things, such as thoroughly washing items with hot soapy water before handing them over and once receiving them, encouraging doorstep collections as well as leaving items for 72 hours before touching them if they want to be extra careful. We only encouraged users to begin using the app again once the government deemed the procedures safe, and we based our advice on evolving government guidance. We also advised people with underlying health issues to be particularly careful and to make their own judgement about what is appropriate and we advised those who were self-isolating for example not to participate.

In a few words of advice to other SMEs struggling during the pandemic, Jason added: Ultimately, it’s about finding a way to offer your consumers, or your customers, tangible value other than just encouraging them to buy a product or service because you want or need them to. If you have that crystalised, then it’s just about finding the way through the inevitable problems and barriers. If you can help them do good, and importantly feel good, whilst also engaging with your business, then this has a long-term benefit for you, for them as a customer and to society more broadly. It’s also about focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t. That might involve targeting a new audience,

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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