Secret Life of Plastic

Creative Entrepreneur: Oonagh Herbert, Secret Life of Plastic

The Secret Life of Plastic is a small Upcycling/Recycling enterprise in County Clare which Oonagh Herbert set-up in 2015.  

The Secret Life of Plastic offers an engaging, curious and tactile view of our plastic waste problem. She creates a range of sculptures that explore the issues of plastic in our oceans now, and also futuristic possibilities of where we are heading if this addiction to single-use disposable plastic continues.

Through these pieces, Oonagh hopes to offer people the chance to place a new value on this waste, to understand its origin and the long journey this material takes before it ends up as a disposable cup or fork or straw.

Tell us about your business:
Secret Life of Plastic is a small creative enterprise based in Ennis Co Clare that focuses on finding new value in our plastic waste. By transforming this waste into jewellery, flowers and lamps, and also large sculptures for educational exhibits, Secret Life of Plastic hopes to make people re-examine their own plastic use.

Where do you live? Why do you like it?
I live in Ennis, the main town in Co Clare which is a fabulous part of the West of Ireland. I have the glorious coastline to the west of me, the wilds of the Burren to the north of me, and the lively colourful cities of Galway and Limerick just short drives away.

Where were you previously located (if outside the West)
Although I was born in the UK both my parents are Irish and we relocated here when I was 11. After finishing school I spent a number of years working and travelling in Europe and Asia, finally settling back here in my early 30s; almost 20 years ago now.

What were your main reasons for moving to the West?
I think I was always going to settle back here, both for reasons of family and because it always felt like ‘home’. When travelling I developed a keen interest in ‘communities’ and the structures of development so when I returned I was lucky enough to be able to return to school studying politics, community development and social enterprise. I see so many possibilities for sustainable development ideas here in the West, I think it’s an amazing region full of creative people.

What is your employment status?
I’m self-employed

When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
Secret Life of Plastic was originally an educational exhibition project held as part of the Ennis Street Arts Festival in 2015; my aim was to try and raise awareness about the issues we are facing due to our overdependence on plastic, in particular, single-use disposable plastic. Due to the encouragement I received from this I decided to build on it, initially developing plans for a social enterprise involving a workshop space collecting various waste materials, and as an incubation space for new upcycling enterprise ideas. Secret Life of Plastic was started in order to fund this idea, to encourage others to examine the waste materials we have available to us and redefine them as resources.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
Lack of funding is always an issue, meaning I have developed this enterprise at a snail’s pace! As my business is based on using the materials that others see as rubbish, my costs are quite minimal. I qualified for a Back to Work Enterprise Allowance which meant I had a basic weekly income to support myself and my family and I was also awarded small enterprise grants to pay for some basic equipment such as a laptop and some tools. This grant also covered my insurance and website hosting. I embarked on a Website for Business course too which meant I was able to build and manage my own website and online marketing. A steep learning curve but well worth it.

Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?
My market so far has been local. I can be found at the Chapel Lane Market most Saturdays in the heart of Ennis. This is a fabulous little art and craft market where you will find a wide range of creative people selling their work. It is a great place to help establish a small enterprise as they are all happy to share information, ideas and most importantly, encouragement. I also have platforms on social media where I have received orders and commissions, I have created work for people locally and have sent pieces to the UK and the US.

How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
My business is still really in its infancy, it has been a lot of hard work for 2 years getting all the various elements needed into place. But I’m getting there!

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?
I undertook a number of training courses to prepare for this including a Build a Business Online course where I learned to design and build my own website (I have since completely redesigned it twice, so I am still learning). Social Media for Marketing was also another very useful course for anyone planning to start a business, and of course, I took a Start Your Own Business Course which was invaluable. Because I had studied Community Development and Social Enterprise with UCC and worked for a number of years with community groups I had a good working knowledge of the administration side of running everything. The creative artistic side of my work was born of a life-long interest in all areas of art, craft and design.

secret life of plastic

How do you promote your business?
At the minute my business is promoted mostly online, locally through word of mouth, and by my weekly display at the local craft market. I am planning to further develop my online marketing now as I have been revamping my website again and am adding an online shop to my site.

Having high-quality images for promotion is extremely important for any creative business. We were delighted to be one of 21 creative businesses from across the West who recently received support from for a professional photoshoot. Some of these images are included in this article.

We look forward to being included in an international marketing campaign soon for using these photos.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
If I could start again I have to say there is not much I could have done differently, I am sure the business would have grown and developed much faster if I had been able to rent a workshop or small space; starting a business from home can be quite difficult when that home is already small, and when it involves collecting other people’s rubbish! Luckily my family have adapted reasonably well to being surrounded by plastic, but it is still hard to remove yourself from all the daily chores when working from home.

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love the idea I am my own boss; that this business is mine, built from scratch, and that I can choose the direction it goes in. The drawback is that I find just as much time is spent in front of the computer working as sitting at my workbench creating stuff; having to do all parts of the business when I just want to be playing with ‘rubbish’..!

What should happen in the West of Ireland to support self employment / entrepreneurship?
The West of Ireland is full of creative people with lots of really interesting, innovative ideas, but many of them never seem to get off the ground; usually due to lack of funding. Although there is funding available out there it is often not so straightforward to access it and one would need to be fairly confident with funding applications and administration skills. Incubation spaces and workshop spaces would also see lots more ideas transformed into viable businesses as these would provide space and support to people.

If you previously lived outside the West, how does the cost of living compare with where you previously lived?
The cost of living is quite high here, in recent years the price of rent has risen quite significantly as the number of available houses has dropped. While I do love living here it does have its difficulties; public transport is very limited which means it is nearly impossible to live without a car. It would be impossible for me to say the West of Ireland is a cheap place to live but I suppose in terms of quality of life it is worth it.


secret life of plastic


For more visit the Secret Life of Plastic website


About MyCreativeEdge is funded through ‘a creative momentum project’, a three-year (2015-2018) transnational project co-funded by the EU Interreg Northern Periphery & Arctic (NPA) Programme 2014-2020. 

‘a creative momentum project’ is operated by six partner organisations: Western Development Commission (WDC), Ireland; NUI, Galway (NUIG), Ireland; North East Iceland Cultural Council, Iceland; South East Economic Development, Northern Ireland; Technichus Mid-Sweden Ltd, Sweden; and Lapland University of Applied Sciences, Finland. The WDC is the lead partner. For more see