On a roll
In November 2020, toilet paper company Tanki won the Maritime UK Innovation Award. Director Matt O’Crowley, an alumnus of our Warsash Maritime School, talks a bit about his time at Solent and his personal journey – and how he’s saving the world with every flush.
I came to Solent as a mature student in 2010, training as a deck officer cadet. Previously I’d been working in the small boat sector; I part-owned the world’s smallest commercially operated paddle steamer, PS Monarch, but that was winding down in order to begin my studies.
After running my own business for some years, I’d decided to take up an opportunity that I turned down when I was 16. The Warsash name, with its enviable tradition of excellence, made it the only choice for me.
I always hoped that I would one day be able to commute over from my home on the Isle of Wight by steam and tie up Monarch on the college pier… but sadly it wasn’t to be. Still, there were other ways to feel at home. I remember first dragging a suitcase into my room where my bemused roommate watched me unload a very decent sample from my wine collection from home. I always took my studies seriously, but I wasn´t about to forgo any comforts!
Once the campus wine cellar was installed, I remember how quickly a community formed! Our cohort ranged from 16-40 in age, from a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. Solent managed us, and supported us to become a cohesive, friendly and challenging bunch. Looking back, it must have taken great skill and insight to get us to that point, and as a result my abiding memories are very much about the people and how we supported and challenged each other to succeed.
And the staff really helped. Each member of the teaching staff brought personal experiences and nuances to the curriculum, which gave us a real head start on the competition and a fabulous overview of the industry that we were striding into.
I’m still in touch with many of them, and can´t thank them enough for not only giving me an excellent maritime education, but also the confidence to expand my knowledge and impact of, and within, maritime as a whole.
Don´t restrict yourself to one stream, learn everything that you can from anything that you do and make sure never to waste the knowledge that you acquire along the way.
Really though, there is no better place to learn about maritime than in a sea city such as Southampton. Seeing the shipping of the city gliding by every day reminds you why you are there. And Solent always provided everything you needed and more, in a comfortable and collegiate atmosphere.
I will never forget stepping out onto the fire range for the first time to pick up my breathing apparatus and walk into a burning metal box…what made it memorable was the fact that the local radio started playing Eye of the Tiger as we stepped out of the changing room; cheesy but very cool!
Mixing with other students, especially when you are doing something as interesting as a cadetship, brought me into marketing, business and other groups. Our conversations and debates are still in my mind as I take my company into international markets and medias. I learned so much from those on other courses, and often from their lecturers when I would bend their ears over a drink!
Solent is a one-stop shop for everything that you could need – any and every question was answered, and sometimes questions would be suggested that you didn’t even know to ask! I am a results-orientated person in business, and I appreciated the focus and motivation given to us by the University.
Since completing my cadetship I´ve been involved in training and development around health and safety from the outset; Solent gave me further knowledge to explore the subject, and my studies have taken me from working onboard ship as a qualified officer to the Middle East and Africa as a safety superintendent, as well as working with offshore windfarms and important subsea survey work.
My favourite story, which I bore everybody with, was a maritime accident investigation that I completed in West Africa. An 11-million-dollar overall loss – which involved blackouts, poor decision making, asset damage and many other things besides – was all caused by a set of faulty 12-volt batteries ordered by head office to save about $12 on each unit!
It taught me how small decisions can amplify themselves into huge problems –and that is something that I can absolutely say that I learnt to respect from my time at Solent.
The industry is far bigger and more complicated than I could have imagined, there are some incredible people involved in it from the coatings engineers and chemists all the way to buyers who have to get goods into some of the most difficult parts of the world-it´s an incredible industry and one that could take a lifetime to fully learn.
I took my maritime knowledge and have applied it to manufacturing, working with a large global organisation as a divisional manager and on to consultancy and auditing work – which eventually led to the formation of my current company Tanki.
Myself and my colleagues spend a fair bit of time in countries and places where loo roll cannot be flushed as the sewers are not up to the job. Once we found that one of the root causes was lamination glue, it was a quick jump to the marine environmental laws which prohibit the discharge of just 1 gram of plastic into the ocean.
Considering that a single cruise ship can flush 150 tonnes over the course of a year, we decided that something must be done to close the gap in the market. Despite COVID, a diagnosis of HIV and poor economic conditions, I was able to pull all of my skills and knowledge together to create and manufacture the world’s first fully MARPOL compliant toilet paper within just 14 weeks.
My cadetship taught me not to let your bum get flat by sitting on it for too long, and I have taken that ethic forward into my current work!
Unfortunately some shipping companies will buy the very cheapest loo roll that nobody would choose to use at home, and force their seafarers into using it for half their lives onboard ship. Designed not to block sewage treatment plants, Tanki is as kind to seafarers’ bottoms as it is the environment! It’s a genuine innovation for the maritime industry, and we are enjoying seeing it grow.
And even more so, winning the Maritime UK Innovation Award in 2020 – beating a nuclear power station of all things! All of this has resulted in lots of media attention from all around the world, the most exciting for me being a profile piece in Business Insider which is read by over 120m people annually.
Frankly, we are still shocked to have won – the competition was really tough, and we are very humbled that our loo roll could be held in such high esteem. Other people say that we have overcome a much-needed engineering challenge, but for us we have just had fun along the way whilst meeting and collaborating with some incredible people from the outset.
Tanki is a small company with many satellite supporters and distributers, and in a matter of months the family has grown to nearly 100 all over the world. It probably takes up about 70% of my time, and every day is a thrill. Currently I switch between chairing marketing meetings, taking part in commercial strategy planning, speaking at online conferences, speaking directly with customers, managing the supply chain and keeping my colleagues topped up with caffeine.
And reading the customer email! As you might expect, we get some wonderful (and very funny) feedback from customers. It’s never a dull day at Tanki Towers.
To find out more about our maritime cadetships, visit maritime.solent.ac.uk/careers/officer-cadet-training