Greener, more sustainable and eco-friendly business is firmly on the agenda as the UK emerges from lengthy lockdowns into a post-pandemic world. From reducing carbon footprints created by supply chains to sourcing energy supplies from renewables, British businesses are racing to support a net-zero economy and protect our fragile environment.
Some start-ups are going further, fully embracing sustainable, plastic-free and carbon-neutral operations that deliver eco-friendly products and services directly to consumers. From zero-waste shops to plastic-free loo rolls, here are examples of four new sustainable start-ups that have blossomed during lockdown.
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Sea Change Zero Waste
Location: Abingdon, Oxfordshire
“I started Sea Change back in 2019 – and I had no experience in business whatsoever,” says Ella Peirson. “This was all a completely new thing. I was a watersports instructor. My plan was to sail the world and work on superyachts.”
But Ella knew that she wanted to change how she shopped to reduce plastic usage, and the then 19-year-old figured out the best route was to launch her environmentally-friendly venture. “At that time, there was nothing nearby that allowed me to do that, so it was a case of I’ve got to do this myself. I opened the shop six months after I decided that this is what I wanted to do.”
Sea Change Zero Waste encourages customers to ditch disposable plastic food and home product containers and instead bring their containers to the store to fill with a wide range of loose products on offer, from flour, herbs and sweets to shampoo and detergent.
The shop lives and breathes a recycled and reused ethos.
“All of our shop fittings are made of reclaimed scaffold boards and pallet boards. We spent weekends collecting pallets from all over Oxfordshire, taking them apart and sanding them down to make shop fittings,” says Ella.
Sea Change Zero Waste even weathered the Covid-19 pandemic, with Ella launching an e-commerce store and opening a second, larger shop.
“During the lockdown, I set up an online shop in a week so our customers could order online. We would either deliver, or they could collect from outside the shop. So we’re now in the process of completely redoing the website, and we’ll be able to ship all over the UK, especially all of our non-food products. We’re hoping to have our own electric delivery van.
“I think we’ve got a slightly different approach,” she adds. “We opened three months before the first lockdown, and a month before the first lockdown, I went to view premises for our second shop in Wallingford. So despite a difficult year, the fact that the community came together and we have such amazing support allowed us to open our second shop.”
Her secret, she says, is being realistic when it comes to ending plastic use and moving towards net zero living.
“I tell customers straight up that we are by no means a zero-waste family. We’re a family of five, and I have teenage siblings. There are things that we haven’t yet found alternatives for. But, we produce a lot less waste now. A lot of what we do is advice – a lot of our social media isn’t about the products we sell, but about the lifestyle and the changes you can make.”
Location: Ottery St Mary, Devon
“I saw a huge trend in plastic-free shops opening up in 2018,” reveals PitTastic founder Alice Bardwell, which inspired her to open her zero-waste shop. “We’ve got so much plastic in our world and plastic in our bodies through what we’re eating.”
However, it was after Alice suffered a sudden stroke in March 2019, which robbed her of the ability to speak, read or write, and during her subsequent long recovery that she formulated her range of solid deodorant bars.
“I wanted initially to create some products to sell in my shop. And the biggest thing on the scene at that time were shampoo bars that let you ditch the shampoo bottle. I explored what else could be done in a bar and came up with the idea of a solid deodorant. It took me about six months to develop over a bain-marie with different waxes, products and different fragrances. It also involved a lot of smelling armpits.
“It’s been a big learning curve for me because I was never into cosmetics. I’ve never worked with essential oils. But I wanted to learn properly; it’s enjoyable and completely plastic-free.
“We hand-make them still, and I want to keep that as a USP, but we are now expanding to wholesale and working with major distributors for the bars.”
And her advice? “Resilience. Just keeping going and just having some good people working with you,” she says. “You can’t always do everything yourself, and that may have contributed to why I had a stroke, so work with good people and get support.”
Location: Shrewsbury, Shropshire
From an initial eureka moment during lockdown to huge growth in just 18 months, plastic-free loo roll Tanki has been an environmental and business success story. Matt O’Crowley conceived the business idea of Tanki when his normal work dried up during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving him without an income.
“I realised I had a problem, but I’ve got the skills, knowledge and experience – so I gave myself seven days to solve it and come up with a business idea,” he says.
Matt’s initial brainstorming involved bananas. Lots of them. “I love Gran Canaria, and they’ve got lots of bananas. Absolute piles of bananas, and it’s one of the most wasted foods on the planet. I looked at making banana flour, then started looking at paper and thinking about what we could do with it.
“During the seven days, my toilet blocked, and a light bulb went on in my head,” he reveals. “A lot of factories have to put toilets nowhere near the mains. On ships, the sewage treatment systems block all the time because of toilet paper and unblocking it is a gruesome job. In countries like Greece, you’ve got the bin by the loo for used toilet paper because the sewage system can’t handle it.
“So I decided to find a solution,” he says. “What I found is that it’s not the thickness of the paper, but how the papers are glued together. That’s how layers of toilet paper are held together. We flush 20,000 tonnes of glue and plastic polymer down the loo each year in the UK.”
The result of Matt’s research and brainstorming is Tanki, a new type of loo roll that uses water lamination to keep layers together. Matt reveals that it took just 14 weeks from the initial idea to launching the product, and the business is now flush with success. Selling online has seen huge growth, and the business is poised to start local production in Greece.
“I have a strong passion for wildlife and wanted to use everything that I’ve done already and all my skills as a packaging art worker to create a business that was geared towards wildlife conservation,” says Cherssie Bown, founder of Urbee, which supports pollinator insects through its environmentally-friendly bee-themed products.
“Pollinators are declining so rapidly – it’s something that everybody can help with. I want to get people involved and give people the knowledge to make those sorts of decisions themselves. I share a lot of information on my social pages about bumblebee conservation to make people aware of the things that are happening.”
The result is Urbee, which sells native wildflowers that support pollinators, eco-friendly kids products and organic gifts including candle, honey and seed sets.
“I design all my products,” says Cherssie. “I then get them manufactured mainly by UK companies, which is important to me. I think UK manufacturing needs the support more than ever, and it lowers carbon footprints.”
There’s a direct benefit to pollinators, too, with 10% of profits supporting Buglife.
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