Caye Life: vacation moment that inspired the fight against single-use plastic

When visiting a supposedly idyllic holiday island, Sarah Rudd was shocked by the amount of rubbish that was lying on the banks. So she decided to take action.

Belize’s Caribbean islands are advertised as one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the world, but Australian Sarah Rudd didn’t think so when she visited in 2016.

While visiting the popular islands of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, the 38-year-old was confronted with huge amounts of garbage and garbage caused by a lack of waste management systems.

“We were traveling around and just noticed an incredible amount of rubbish washing up on the coast of these beautiful islands,” she said. “It was just a lot of rubbish and very sad.”

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She originally planned to take a year off her role in marketing to help clean up the trash and ask the government for better waste management programs, but chose to tackle the single-use plastics issue instead.

Two years later, she founded Caye Life – a line of reusable stainless steel water bottles and coffee mugs. The additional insulation means that cold drinks remain chilled for 24 hours and hot drinks are insulated for 12 hours.

Now in its third year of existence, the single mother says she saved more than a million coffee cups and water bottles from landfill.

“We estimate Caye Life has helped prevent over 800,000 disposable coffee mugs from being landfilled each year. Along with an estimated 500,000 water bottles, ”she says.

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Without any previous knowledge of running a company, Ms. Rudd admits that the 12 months between the idea and the founding of Caye Life were “a process”.

“I had no experience of making and sourcing good manufacturers, and that was a pretty long process,” she says.

“Getting samples, going into production, learning the technical language and pricing the product was also such a learning curve at the time.”

Though Ms. Rudd used social media for marketing and brand awareness, a surprise endorsement from 2017, The Block winner Elyse Knowles, was also a “fantastic win” for Caye Life.

“We were in the South Melbourne market and they came and bought from us, so it wasn’t a free gift,” she says.

“She just liked what she saw, wanted to pay for it and then made a lot of quotes about the product.”

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Although Ms. Rudd Caye Life still juggles family and a marketing role for a tech company, she admits that wearing lots of hats is part of starting a small business. But now that Caye Life is more established, she sees the value in hiring people “different people with different abilities”.

“(In the beginning) I did the photography, social media management, and shipping the orders from my house,” she says. “It was very new from the ground up, just trying it out and trying everything out for yourself to see if there was a viable business out there.”

“Now I still do the marketing and I run the business, but I have some fantastic people to help me out.

“I think that outsourcing certain tasks is more valuable to a company than doing everything.”

After keeping Caye Life afloat during COVID-19 and even growing 100 percent in 2020, Ms. Rudd says the most rewarding aspect of her small business is embarking on her original mission of reducing single-use plastic.

“When I see someone with my water bottles and reusable cups, it’s like hearing your song on the radio,” she said.

“It’s just so nice to see that people want to use your products and know that everyone is doing this for a good cause.”

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