Zero Waste on Wheels – The mobile business on a mission to make Maidstone greener
“I was peeling the plastic wrap off of a shampoo bottle and it came clean off, leaving me with a perfectly good reusable bottle. I couldn’t just throw it away so I wondered if there was somewhere I could refill it. I couldn’t find anywhere local so I just thought – maybe that’s a service I could provide?”
It was before her youngest child started school that the idea for her business came to Headcorn-based, Alicia Sharp. “I was peeling the plastic wrap off of a shampoo bottle and it came clean off, leaving me with a perfectly good reusable bottle. I couldn’t just throw it away so I wondered if there was somewhere I could refill it. I couldn’t find anywhere local so I just thought: maybe that’s a service I could provide?”
And so, Zero Waste on Wheels, a mobile refilling and recycling service was born. Initially, Alicia planned to use a gardener’s wagon as transport before her partner suggested a van would be easier and more convenient.
“I was reluctant to use a van at first as I was worried about the emissions but I looked into it and found out that I could overcome that by paying to offset it somewhere else in the world. I’ve basically done everything I can to make it as eco-friendly as possible.”
With the van kitted out as a mobile shop Alicia now travels around the borough providing refills of products such as detergent, cleaning and personal hygiene products, coffee and cooking oil, for example. Customers simply book a free Zero Waste on Wheels visit and pay for the weight of product refilled in their own clean bottles. Keen to ensure her service is as green as possible, Alicia works with eco-friendly suppliers, offering biodegradable, sustainable products and operating a ‘closed-loop’ system, meaning any containers are sent back to the company to be washed and reused.
She also operates a recycling collection service and since June last year, has collected almost 300kg of crisp packets which might otherwise have gone to landfill. What’s more, the money raised goes to the Kent and Sussex Air Ambulance. She also collects dental product waste to help raise money for a local school, Coxheath Primary.
She’s keen to help encourage children to be greener too; earlier this year, with the help of a local donor, she provided beautifully illustrated books on recycling by author Ellie Jackson to all 50 primary schools in the borough.
Launched just before the pandemic struck, Alicia’s services were a lifeline during restrictions, meaning people could still get the products they needed and recycle their waste without leaving home.
And the idea certainly seems to have caught on. Having started out with just one or two visits booked in March 2020, Alicia has registered over 1,500 transactions so far this year. She also has a regular fortnightly slot at Maidstone Market.
Although clearly growing in popularity, with no previous business experience, Alicia admits it’s not always been easy, “I’ve made mistakes and I’m learning all the time. But Maidstone Borough Council has been lovely. They were so helpful when it came to getting my street trading license and I love being at the market.”
She is, she says, encouraged by the growing eco-friendly community in the borough: “I have an amazing business card made out of bamboo with a near field communication chip (NFC) which customers can simply tap with their phone to save all my details. I’m also working with a local company to make me a 3D printed logo with similar scannable technology. Then there’s the Eco-hub too, which is a great platform for tackling climate change. It’s wonderful to have such a great mix of businesses and organisations like this locally – I’d love to help and support more of them.”
And what advice would she give to businesses who want to be greener?
“If you’d like an easy, convenient way to reduce your home or workplace’s plastic waste, call or message to book a refill visit and I will park up outside so staff can bring out their empty bottles/containers to refill, and I can also take away many hard to recycle items at the same time. You could also set up a mini recycling centre on site and book me to come and collect that for you.
“There is no perfect solution to waste but we can all do our bit. I always say that if we all try to follow the 4 ‘Rs’ in the order of reduce, reuse, regift and lastly, recycle, then we’re going in the right direction.”