We all know the impact nappies has had on the environment and Laura Crawford is at the forefront of creating sustainable nappies and campaigning for UK government to change current practises that see 8 million plastic nappies and 30 million wet wipes enter the UK landfill every DAY!
Here Laura is sharing with us the story of how she created the multi-award winning brand that is changing up the diaper world.
This interview is part of our It's Never Too Late series, championing women regardless of age, to follow their big, bold ambitions.
Hi Laura can you introduce your wonderful business to us?
My name is Laura Crawford and my business partner is Jennie Potts and together we run Mama Bamboo. We run an online subscription business for eco-conscious parents offering bamboo disposable nappies and wipes offering parents a greener, healthier alternative to plastic single use versions.
How old were you when you started your business and how long have you been running it for?
I was 38 years old when I made the switch from a career in the city to start my own business. I’ve been running Mama Bamboo for nearly 3 years now.
Had you owned your own business before?
It was my first time as a business owner. I’d previously worked for big FTSE 500 companies in the city.
What made you take the leap into starting your business?
I’d had my own children and had been horrified by the fact that 8 million plastic nappies and 30 million wet wipes enter the UK landfill every DAY! I tired cloth but I couldn’t cope with all the washing and I read the DEFRA report that indicated re-usables weren’t as environmentally friendly as I had first thought (heavy carbon footprint due to use of cotton, washing machines, dryers, etc). Cloth also leaked too much – I’d need +30 sets just to make it through a day. And I didn’t find a eco-brand of disposables which I was happy with. They were either great eco-credentials but leaked regularly and made from stiff, papery material or they felt pretty good and performed ok but were full of greenwash marketing when I did my homework (15% natural materials and wrapped in oxo-biodegradable plastic). So I set about developing my own.
Mama Bamboo nappies are made from 100% bamboo fibre top and bottom covers, chlorine free FSC certified pulp, compostable liners, vegan adhesive and wrapped in compostable packaging. Our wipes are also 100% compostable bamboo fibre. Bamboo has the advantage of being a highly sustainable crop that grows rapidly without the use of pesticides, fertilisers or false irrigation. It's much more sustainable than cotton. It’s also regulated by the FSC to ensure there are no negative impacts of unmonitored deforestation or widespread single crop farming. Bamboo can be harvested by removing 1/3 of the plant at any one time and allowing the forest to regenerate naturally. Bamboo is also a very effective carbon sink – it soaks up 3x more carbon than a similar standing of trees so its afforestation can have a significant impact on reducing global warming.
What did you find hard in the beginning?
Everything! Every day was a steep learning curve – product development, supplier vetting, VAT paperwork, Certification body requirements, technology set up, measuring boxes to suit Amazon and DPD limitations, designing racking in a warehouse, learning how to use online design software. Literally every single I did I had to learn from scratch.
What surprised you most about starting your own business?
How much fun it was. Although it was mindboggling, it was so exciting as well. And I surprised myself at every turn by being able to learn new stuff and make a pretty decent job at it. I made mistakes for sure, too many to count, but every mistake was just another lesson.
Looking back, do you think you'd have done anything differently?
I’d get another person involved sooner. I brought my best friend of 20 years in after the first year and she has been an absolute godsend to me. I could not have expanded without her.
I think if I’d have brought her in from the very beginning I wouldn’t have made so many mistakes and I would have felt more supported and confident. Having a partner to bounce ideas off and jointly navigate the sea of uncertainty is a necessity.
What are you passionate about?
Developing a Circular Economy for nappies and wipes. They are such a huge pollutant.
I made the decision to go down the compostable route rather than the recyclable route for nappies like several other eco-brands. Basically very little recycling ever gets recycled and it has a fairly hefty carbon and water-use footprint to recycle nappies.
We did meet with the only nappy recycling plant owner in the UK, and he explained that there was really no end-of-life environmental advantage to so called eco-nappies with 85% polypropylene covers and polyethene liners, than with standard plastic supermarket brands. The recycling process can handle both kinds and actually needs the plastic element to make a useful second life product (pinboards). I fear when consumers realise that there’s no end-of-life eco-advantage to the likes of Mum&You, Pura, Pampers Pure over the standard kind, they will not be willing to pay the premiums for these brands.
I also made the decision to avoid the flushable route for the wipes, as this does not equate to environmentally friendly. Many ‘flushable’ versions are made with un-eco materials and in reality do not flush and disintegrate into un-harmful matter in the required timeframes. I believe there will be a backlash against all “flushable” brands in time.
With that in mind, I wanted to make something compostable; something you could hot compost at home or in an industrial composter.
We want to work with the UK government to develop a circular economy for products like ours. Bio-plastic production is rising significantly across the globe and all governments are looking to develop waste streams to handle the subsequent products (Vegware coffee lids, mailing bags, compostable food trays, etc).
To date these have entered the landfill stream but the government has given UCL a large grant to research and propose a nationwide collection and processing stream for these compostables and has specifically included nappies and wipes. Naty, Kit & Kin and Mama Bamboo are all commercial partners for the project. It is our intention to ensure easily identifiable compostable products like ours will be included in kerbside collections destined for local industrial compost facilities. You may have seen the initial research project for this grant, “The Big Compost Experiment”. The study is now in its second year and intends to make its final proposals within 24 months.
The process for composting these products has been proven in other countries but unfortunately the UK’s only industrial compost facility to handle nappies and wipes, Envirocomp, closed down a few years ago. It did operate long enough to prove the technology and process was successful but without council support it proved financially inviable at the time. Other companies such as Soiled Diaper and Earthbaby in the States and Dycle in Germany have proved their process and financial viability privately and the council of Toronto, Canada has a working municipal example.
In addition to the work with UCL, we run the #nappyrevolution campaign on change.org calling on DEFRA to impose stricter controls on councils sending nappy and wipe waste to landfill. In the UK nappy and wipe waste makes up about 10% of all landfill waste and there are no targets or fines to reduce it. I personally feel that until the councils are fined for sending this waste to landfill they will have no incentive to establish local compost facilities. Certainly from my own discussions with St Albans council and various waste management providers, there was no appetite to invest in this waste stream whilst the landfill option was effectively free.
It would be really good to see more discussion of these compostables in the press as it will assist the UCL project to put pressure on the government and councils to establish these waste streams quicker. Every day that we delay 8 million more plastic nappies and 30 million more plastic wet wipes will be sent to landfill in the UK alone.
If the end-of-life circular economy could be established, and we continue to prove our case that going green is in no way a compromise on quality (we won the Mother&Baby gold award for “Best Performance Nappy Range” in 2020 and MadeforMums award for “Best Baby Wipe” against non-eco brands) I do believe we can turn the tide on the nappy and wipe pollution problem.
What makes you feel good inside?
On a personal level, a hug from one of my little angels. There’s nothing like the feeling of tiny arms round your neck and whispered “I love you Mummy”. They can reduce me to happy tears in seconds.
On a professional level, I get a total thrill every time a parent says their babies’ nappy rash has cleared up using our products and that they love our ethos. I read every single one of our Trustpilot reviews myself and I’m so pleased that we get nearly all 5 star reviews.
You've had some incredible achievements! What is something that's made you proud in the last 12 months?
Winning the Mother&Baby gold award for “Best Performance Nappy Range” in 2020 and MadeforMums award for “Best Baby Wipe” against non-eco brands made me super proud. It was a thrill to beat all the Pampers ranges and supermarket ranges and prove that you don’t have to compromise on quality to go green. Jennie and I nearly cried tears of happiness as we accepted our award on a glitzy London stage that night.
What advice would you give to someone who has been dreaming of starting their own business later in life, but has been holding back?
Don’t hold back! If you’ve got a dream, get a piece of paper and start planning it practically. When you’ve got more than 5 pages of notes, you’ve got enough to get started. I think we can all fall in the trap of planning things to death. You’ll never get it 100% right and even if you did its not practical; something will come up 6 weeks or 6 months down the line that ‘throws a spanner’ in the works and all your detailed plans will need rewriting. Yes, you need a plan, and a budget, but you also need flexibility and resilience.
Anyone starting a business in the last 3 years could not have planned for Covid, or homeschooling, or Brexit, or so many other things. It all comes down to having an overall goal and a big dose of adaptability.
So Laura - what are your goals for the next 12 months?
Our goals are to double our subscription business and release a complementary range of bamboo baby care products, to continue our work with UCL to establish the circular economy for nappies and wipes, and to deepen our partnership with the Ugandan Bamboo Village in supporting them to build a new community centre and achieve carbon neutrality.
We also plan to survive covid, manage the stresses of homeschooling, and take more bubble baths.
If you want to find out more about Laura & her nappies you can find her here:
It's Never Too Late
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