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The Changemakers: Elle McIntosh, biomedical scientist and co-founder, Twipes

In this occasional series of interviews, we talk to pioneers conducting epic work in the sustainability sector. Our guest today is changemaker Ellenor (Elle) McIntosh. Elle is the inventor of 100% fully flushable Twipes wet wipes. She’s been recognised as a ‘Forbes 30 under 30’ young visionary and winner of the [London] Mayor’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

The inspirational Twipes team, along with 100 Ways in 100 Days, are part of the current Aster Foundation Inc. cohort of social impact entrepreneurs. Here we put the wonderful, and ever-modest Elle into our 100 Ways hot seat…

Can you explain what Twipes are, what they do and who they’re for?

Twipes are the world’s first truly flushable and truly biodegradable wet wipes. They’re entirely plastic-free, so they won’t clog pipes or add microplastic pollution to our oceans. Twipes are dermatologically-tested and gently antibacterial, so they make an excellent all-purpose skincare wipe – great for anything from post-gym wipe downs to messy toddlers, and of course toilet use (naturally).

What’s the benefit, for consumers and for the planet?

They’re designed to disperse in water in just three hours and begin breaking down the minute they’re flushed, before reaching the main drain. They also break down in landfill in just seven days, faster than bamboo or cotton wipes which range from three weeks to six months. This means our product takes less of a toll on the environment and your pipes – which is essential considering the UK alone uses 11 billion wet wipes each year.

What did you do prior to setting up Twipes – and what motivated you to turn your back on that career?

What didn’t I do!? I was working in a restaurant, Parliament, an oncology lab and running the business.

I wouldn’t call it turning my back on the career, at the beginning I started out working in a lab, which I loved – I plan on going back to the lab as soon as possible. What I now love about working on Twipes, is that I can work for myself, I have goals that I can work on and it’s for the business to go forward. It’s so refreshing to know that I can work for myself and toward my own goals, versus feeding the corporate machine or working toward the goals of someone else.

What’s your typical day like?

I wake up at 6:30-7 (on a good day) and head to the gym. After the gym I grab some food and a coffee and check my emails, manage the staff and go over business goals for the week, month, year. This is then broken up into daily goals that are distributed among the staff.

As a young start-up in sustainability, what have been your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is education. The problem for sustainable businesses like ours is cutting through the noise of misinformation. There’s so much of it and that is a challenge. To educate and teach the public that the sustainable options don’t always have to be more expensive, nor does it have to be harder.

And biggest successes?

Our biggest success has definitely been our move to America. We have recently received funding that has helped us secure a factory and an ability to move out to the States and ship Twipes from there too.

Funniest or weirdest moment?

My favourite question I’ve ever been asked about the Twipes is “can I drink the water after it [Twipes] has been dissolved in it.” Both me and my co-founder looked at each other and were confused as this is clearly a product for bathroom use. Just an FYI you can drink the water, but I most certainly would not recommend it.

What keeps you going when you fear everyone’s journey to Net Zero is going far too slowly?

That it’s not being ignored. People are still trying and whilst it may not happen as quickly as we want it to, at least we know that it is happening, and people are aware and are trying to do something about it.

What’s your top tip for easily achievable things people can do either at work, at home or at play to be more sustainable?

Take one day a week to do something sustainable. Meat-free Mondays are a great way to start. If you can start with one little change, you’re already doing your bit for the environment.

What’s the most exciting sustainability development you’ve heard about recently?

I think it’s less about one or two things and more that there is an influx of sustainable businesses being created. The changing attitude toward sustainability and the expectation that every single business now needs to have sustainable goals means that there are massive changes happening within traditional industries.

And finally, what’s next for Twipes?

I’m excited to be getting back into the labs, developing new products and tackling the world of other single-use plastic products. We are currently targeting retail and plan on getting our products into the likes of Whole Foods and Target.