Award Winning Female Entrepreneur: Emma Elston

Photo_Emma Elston_June11

UK Container Maintenance Limited’s Emma Elston won the 2010 NatWest everywoman Demeter Award, for her inspirational work building and growing her business. We caught up with her to find out the secret to her success.

I started UK Container Maintenance Limited in 1988 with my husband Julian at the age of 22, armed with eight GCSEs and a desire to succeed. We’re a market-leading, nationwide waste and recycling container repair and refurbishment company, providing a service to local authorities and leading waste and recycling companies.

The increasing awareness in the waste industry for the need to recycle and find cost-saving solutions has fuelled our growth. Public and Government pressure is ensuring that the waste and recycling sector is constantly expanding as new recycling initiatives are brought to market.

I’m really proud because Julian and I have built the business to what it is today, without any outside investment.


Whilst working as an agency bin man for a large waste company in the late nineties, Julian recognised a need for a business like ours; to repair waste and recycling containers.

We both believed that the business would work, so we developed a business plan and took this to our bank to see if they would give us a business start-up loan or any help in progressing the business forward. Unfortunately the bank manager did not have the same belief, and found the idea rather amusing, it was a most definite ‘no’.

We remained undeterred, as we knew we had a great business idea, so although we were a little fearful, we borrowed £10,000 on our credit cards – this is not the best financing plan, but it was the only route we could take at the time. We purchased a van and tools, and had all our letterheads and business cards printed. The business was incorporated in August 1998 and we started to operate the company from our spare bedroom. Within two weeks we had secured our first job with a local council, who is still one of our top ten customers today.

The first five years of the business were difficult, like any new business, but having the vision and never losing sight of what we first set out to do definitely put us on the road to success and self-belief.


Since taking a risk in taking out big loans when we started the business, we have been pretty cautious since then, and very rarely do we take high risks. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to make a business work and grow. Doing your homework and researching your market and products is the best preparation in any decision making.

Passion and positivity should also be the main driving force behind what you set out to do. Being positive and having the passion and confidence in your products and services empowers you and those around you.


The quality of our products and services is driven by integrity and honesty; we have well established and excellent customer and supplier relationships, outstanding health and safety, and care for the environment. We want to save our customers money so they come back to us over and over again.


Winning the NatWest everywoman Demeter Award has been amazing for me, personally and for the business. It has raised the company profile immensely, and has been so very surreal (but obviously I am very proud) seeing myself in the local, national and business press.  

The award is definitely in recognition of all our hard work over the past 14 years.  It is also a huge recognition for all our customers, suppliers and employees who have supported us and continue to support us year after year.

I recommend the NatWest everywoman Awards all the time. I know so many fantastic women of all ages, personalities, businesses and abilities with the passion, drive and confidence. They should ALL nominate for an award – they know who they are!




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