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Net zero heroes – 3 sustainable start-ups to watch

From zero-waste shops to plastic-free loo rolls, here are examples of four new sustainable start-ups that have blossomed during lockdown.

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.


Want to learn more about sustainability as a start-up business?

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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.



Location: London

“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.


Learn with Start Up Loans and help your business get off the ground

Thinking of starting a sustainable business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on finance and accounting. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:

Plus free courses on project management, management and leadership, and more.

Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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