They started making eco-friendly cleaning products in their tiny Burley-in-Wharfedale garage four years ago, but now a young Yorkshire couple run one of the fastest growing zero-waste cleaning brands in the UK.
Shocked by the amount of plastic pouring into the world’s oceans, Emma Tapper and Scott Rudd, both 25, developed their own range of eco cleaning products which they sell in reusable bottles and glass containers.
“We started experimenting in the garage, making apple-scented washing-up liquid in a 200-litre drum with a paint mixer from Screwfix,” Scott says. Despite a few funny looks from the neighbours, they pressed on, determined to clean up the household cleaning industry.
The couple met at university in Liverpool, where they became interested in zero-waste living. Filling up at the local refill shop, Emma started to question what happened to the containers once the store had finished with them. “They told us they got recycled or thrown away so that’s how the idea of Miniml was born,” she said. “We thought we could do it better by collecting the containers, cleaning them and re-using them.
“At the start it was Scott and I staying up late, filling, bottling and labelling everything by hand in the garage and then in our first small warehouse. We were literally there until midnight filling bottles.”
Their hard work paid off and the couple went from making washing-up liquid for friends and family, to selling their award-winning products in 2,500 zero-waste, natural stores and farm shops across the UK.
Scott and Emma are tapping into a growing trend for a zero-waste lifestyle and fighting back against the tide of plastic and excess packaging littering our beaches and oceans. The UK generates more plastic waste per person than any other country except the USA, according to data from the World Bank published in the journal Science Advances recently.
Household cleaning generates a huge source of waste and is one of the biggest contributors to the 14 million tonnes of plastic that washes into the ocean every year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Scientists estimate that plastic can take up to 450 years to break down. Consumers woke up to the danger this plastic causes marine life partly through David Attenborough’s documentary, Blue Planet II a couple of years ago.
The couple’s pioneering eco-cleaning business, The Friendly Chemical Company, is designed to cut out plastic waste altogether. They sell their Miniml range of green and vegan products – including shower gel, washing-up liquid, shampoo, laundry liquid, hand gel and body lotion – in reusable bottles and glass containers.
As a ‘closed loop’ manufacturer, all the bottles and containers they send out from their factory can be returned and re-used. Scott says: “In the UK alone the household and personal care market contributes about a billion bottles a year. We calculate that for every 20-litre product we sell, that’s 40 bottles saved.”
Emma adds: “Any bottle or product sent out from here can be returned to us and cleaned and re-used so even if you bought a 500ml bottle of washing up liquid on our website that can be returned and used again and again.”
Their minimal waste system has earned them several accolades and they’ve just picked up the UK’s Best Green Business award in the UK Business and Innovation Awards 2022.
From mixing dishwashing liquid in their garage four years ago, they switched to a small warehouse in Keighley in 2018 where they employed their first members of staff. In February they expanded again and moved into a 10,000 sq ft factory in Cononley where they employ 25 people.
Scott says: “Basically it develops a reverse logistics system so anything that we deliver comes back to us free of charge. For a business to be viable in a closed loop system you need to do everything under one roof. The good thing here is we do everything in house – the blending, filling the bottles, washing the containers, labelling the bottles.”
Outside the pale green factory, there are pallets of empty bottles and flasks lined up ready to be refilled. Inside, huge bubbling vats of shampoo and laundry liquid are being carefully measured, mixed and stirred. Shelves of shampoo, conditioner and hand gel in glass containers sit alongside bulk vats of eco floor cleaner and fabric conditioner ready to be dispatched.
In another corner of the warehouse, a large blue machine is washing out dozens of plastic containers ready to re-fill with washing up liquid. Pointing out the machine, Emma says: “It’s literally like a big dishwasher, it has different trays depending on what we’re washing.”
The washers’ eco-credentials are further enhanced by a system that recycles and filters the water to avoid unnecessary waste. The little factory just outside Skipton, also uses solar-power and the couple are thinking of installing a wind turbine to boost their green energy supply.
Now the company is set to expand its overseas sales. The Miniml range, which is already sold in Iceland, Sweden and Italy, is planning further expansion in the next few months. “We’ve developed a new system that we’re launching in the next two or three months that will empower us to offer our closed loop system to other European countries,” explains Scott.
“We’re looking at replacing our 20 litre containers with this new type of system that can allow the container to come back to us from any country. England has a very good reputation for manufacturing, especially with chemicals and if we can offer a closed loop system to every European country then we’ll be able to expand quicker.”
The couple’s business has developed hand in hand with the growing crop of zero-waste stores that have sprouted up across the region in the last couple of years. One of the first shops to stock the Miniml brand was a pop-up zero waste shop opened by Charlotte Hawkins in Burley-in-Wharfedale in 2018. She expanded rapidly, opening a permanent zero-waste wholefood store in the village centre and a second Waste Not shop in Ilkley two years later, which is run by her sister, Tilly.
Back at Miniml headquarters, Emma and Scott are planning a new range of personal skin care products. Under the Good Human brand, they’re creating a range of vegan, eco-friendly skin care including face wash, moisturiser and toner with the same system of refillable and reusable containers.
From their humble beginnings, the small company is lathering up quite an interest in reducing single-use plastic. Says Scott: “In 2021 we saved 160 tonnes of plastic, the equivalent of 3.2 million bottles which is based on the bulk containers that we take back and refill.”
And if their first range is anything to go by, the couple should start turning the tide on single-use plastic for good.