BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Twipes, a 2022 43North competition winner, is a bio-tech materials company selling the world’s first truly flushable and biodegradable wet wipes. The company moved from London to Buffalo this past winter.
Twipes co-founder Ellenor McIntosh said the idea came from a friend, who told her how he blocked up his toilet three times in a year with “flushable” wet wipes and that his girlfriend had been flushing products down the toilet as well. McIntosh said the couple came from Cyprus, where everything — including toilet paper — is put in a bin next to the toilet rather than flushed, which is why they were more comfortable flushing everything.
“I told him, ‘Don’t do that, wipes aren’t flushable,'” McIntosh recalled. “And he was like, ‘No, it says it on the packet, they’re absolutely flushable.’ And I said, ‘Turn the packet over and have a look at it, because I promise you it’s not flushable.'”
After that conversation, McIntosh, who studied biomed in undergrad and has a Master’s degree in material and chemical science, was inspired to create a better alternative. The initial solution was to put the wipes on a roll encased in plastic as a toilet paper replacement, but after product testing and studies, the company decided on an improvement on wipes instead.
“When we did our early studies and testing with an audience, they said, ‘Well, we use toilet paper for other things in the bathroom, like wiping something up off the counter’ — they need toilet paper for other things,” McIntosh said. “But they wanted an addition to the toilet paper, and that’s where Twipes was born. I’m a scientist by trade, so I’m biomedical material and chemical scientist. I went to a lab and got in there and created this product.”
The material Twipes uses in their wipes is itself biodegradable in seven days, however, when submerged in water, the wipes break down in just three hours. When shaken inside a 2-liter bottle, the wipes begin to break down immediately.
McIntosh said the lack of regulation on the use of the word “flushable” is what has led to companies being able to use the term to market wipes that do not break down.
“The word flushable, it didn’t have any regulation, so if I could flush, for example, my sunglasses, and it went down that bend in the toilet, it’s a ‘flushable’ pair of sunglasses. So that is how other wet wipes companies would use that as a ploy to use (the word ‘flushable’).”
What makes Twipes unique is, given their biodegradable nature, they actually are flushable.
McIntosh also discussed the move from London to Buffalo, which took place in the winter. She described the transition as a “huge shock.”
“Everyone says London is foggy, rainy, cold in the winter, and it is — not all the time, despite what the films tell you, it’s not always like that,” she said. “But I was not prepared for Buffalo weather at all. When we came, we just missed the historic storm. We dealt with the fallout of it so it was still freezing cold — cold place, cold city, but extremely warm people.”
She commended the people of Buffalo for being so nice and acknowledged the “everyone knows everyone” feel of the Queen City.
“Everyone wants to see you win, everyone wants to see you succeed, which is really nice,” she said. “London is the biggest city, you’re surrounded by people, but you can also feel very, very lonely, because you’re on your own in a massive city. When you’re in Buffalo, you’ve got this community.”
The startup made its big move after being named a winner of 43North’s competition last year. It is now looking to get settled in Buffalo and in the States with the product and its manufacturing, with the next step being making Twipes available in retail.
“I’d sort of describe 43North as like a parent,” McIntosh said. “It sounds really cliché, but it’s like a family. If you ever have a family gathering, which is every Tuesday, we have bagel Tuesdays, and they’re like ‘What do you need?’ They’re always there to help, regardless of any sort of request. It doesn’t even have to be about work, it can be about — we were looking for apartments — and they were like, ‘Absolutely, that’s what we do, we’re going to help you move.'”
McIntosh was also named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2020 for her work on biodegradable wet wipes.
“It was a little bit of validation,” she said. “When I got that, I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even know I was nominated. Some people apply on behalf of other people, and that’s what happened with me — I had no idea.”
She said though she stays humble about the recognition, McIntosh said being named a part of the Forbes list opened a lot of doors for her as an entrepreneur. She said the validation she felt was not only for her work with Twipes, but also validation for what the product does for the planet.
As for long-term plans, McIntosh said she wants to go back into the lab and develop new products, such as feminine hygiene products and baby diapers.
“We’re trying to tackle that sort of ‘Holy Trinity’ of blockages and landfill crises and everything,” she said. “We try and provide products so you don’t have to think about it. Our thing is changing the product and not the behavior. A lot of people are like ‘I flush wet wipes, but what am I supposed to do if they’re not really flushable?’ And I tell them, ‘You can flush wet wipes, just flush ours instead.’ ‘You can flush your feminine hygiene products if it’s ours.’ Because you don’t want to have to think about that stuff.”
Click here to learn more about Twipes or to purchase the product.
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.