Re-use, recycle, re-think


EXG MAR 14 CLA - Credit: Archant

Colchester’s Natalie Davies has enjoyed two eureka moments that have helped her rethink the way we use recycled material – and the idea just keeps growing

Dragons Duncan Bannatyne, Peter Jones, and Deborah Meaden are accustomed to getting what they want, but one Essex businesswoman has shunned the opportunity of TV fame and a fast cash injection.

CLA member Natalie Davies, from Colchester, has shown nerves of steel to start her business from scratch and real courage to utilise Far East suppliers to make a success of two ventures that utilise paper pulp. Her latest project is a biodegradable tree guard designed to safeguard young trees from animals and provide support as they grow. This comes after her maiden business, Eco Ezee, which manufactures eco-friendly decorating equipment, proved to be hugely popular with builders’ merchants and DIY stores.

It was in 2008 when Natalie, helping her parents decorate a house they had built in Northamptonshire, had a thought that would change their lives forever. She had dropped out of a university business course after deciding practical work placements were more valuable to her than the academic learning and then had spells working for The AA, BMW and a company that was the third largest manufacturer of fabric and elastic for lingerie in China.

‘This coincided with a time when I thought I wanted to run my own business, I just wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, but it was just finding the right idea,’ Natalie says. ‘It came to mind that everyone hates washing up paint trays, so the idea was initially a disposable paint tray made from pulp, basically moulded fibre. I designed something, found a factory on Ali Baba, flew out to China and got it made. And that was the start of it.’

With the bit firmly between her teeth, Natalie took her prototype and her ideas to builders merchants Travis Perkins. The firm got behind it and stocked it in 15 of its stores in London – and then asked if she could develop another set of sustainable decorating sundries. Natalie now supplies the company with sustainable paint trays, brushes, roller frames and covers as well as paint kettles. The products are stocked in 70 stores, mainly in the south east, but, following a range review in 2013, they are set to be seen in 600 stores across the country.

With extensive knowledge gained regarding recyclable material and dealing with Far East manufacturers, there was always going to be the possibility of another product being created, but it was not until she was back helping her parents again that she had another ‘eureka’ moment for the sustainable tree guard.

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‘My parents were planting a load of trees on their land and we went to the nursery and ordered them. We were asked what animals we had. We have a big issue on the estate with rabbits, hares and muntjac, so they told us we would need to protect the trees with plastic guards. As we were planting, we were thinking how weird it was to be planting trees and wrapping them in plastic.

‘It just seemed bizarre to us because we also had to use stakes, which is just chopping down a tree to plant a tree. So my dad said, “Do you think you can make this out of paper pulp? We did a considerable amount of research, speaking to foresters, arboriculturalists and others, to come up with a design and then we got them made and trialled them for four years.

‘We planted 3,600 trees in various locations on my parents’ land: on the top of a really exposed hill 600ft above sea level, down into hedgerows, on a river bank and in a covered, forest area. We had an amazing success rate, with only 1 to 2% failure rate on our trees and a 90% success rate with the guards over that time.

‘We did a launch at the trial site in July 2013 and met with the Tree Council’s director general because it’s a sustainable product. They loved it and were really keen. Now, for every guard sold we donate a penny to the Tree Council. We went to the Confor Woodland Show at Longleat in September 2013 and from then everything has gone a bit mad.’

Natalie has had a wide variety of people interested in the guards, including The Forestry Commission, councils and various estates. ‘We have even had Charlie Craven, the estate manager for Prince Charles, visit and he is very keen on them,’ Natalie reveals. ‘You don’t have to take these off the tree, they just decompose. They start getting shorter and shorter, and then, eventually, disappear. And we use bamboo canes, which is one of the most sustainable woods you can use.’

The Tree Guard, sold through Natalie’s company Ezee Tree Limited, has also proved a hit with the Soil Association, which awarded her its new Innovation Award in October. Natalie also picked up another accolade, the International Green Apple Silver Award at the Houses of Parliament on November 11 and she has just triumphed in two categories in the Colchester Business Awards: Business to Business and the Innovation and Efficiency in Property awards.

While tree guards and decorating sundries are hogging the limelight, the company is also experiencing success with a range of shoe boxes made from paper pulp. Natalie’s business is booming and she now has her parents as full-time employees of the company.

‘The aim is to grow the demand and the business and eventually move manufacturing to the UK, because of the prohibitive cost of shipping goods from China. We can buy raw material for about a quarter of the price we pay in China. We can even take the shoe boxes and other products we make and recycle them into tree guards.’

Now that is sustainable thinking.