Scientific research suggests that challenging yourself with a hobby or a passion that gets you out of bed is at the core of brain health. If that’s true, chemist Brian Milner’s brain is fired up. At age 81, he’s continuously developing new products that are helping the environment.
“I don’t like to just sit around. I’m always thinking and doing something,” he says, offering a tour of his Cobourg laboratory and manufacturing space in a small industrial park in the town’s west end.
There are large drums where liquid formulations are mixed and different sizes of bottling machines that Milner has designed himself to fill orders for an ever-increasing range of cleaners for diverse industries, wholesalers and individual customers across North America and beyond who shop his e-commerce site, bcmchem.com.
The facility is home to his BCM Biodegradable Solutions, the business he launched in 2018 after he came up with a spray-on cleaner that his wife could use to remove those stubborn price tags on big-box glassware. “My wife went out and bought a bunch of glasses and brought them home and we got out our bottle of Goo Gone adhesive remover that everybody’s got underneath the sink,” he explains. “She sprayed it on and it wouldn’t take the labels off. And she asked me to make something that would work.”
So he did.
A couple of weeks later, Milner woke up with a new idea in his mind: a formula made from natural materials. He made up some samples in his basement, where all good science begins. “Lo and behold, the stuff worked better than the Goo Gone,” he laughs. With Milner, there’s no suggestion of self-importance. He is straightforward, unassuming and easy to like. Check out his YouTube marketing videos and you’ll see him in action.
“I had developed some processes where we could get [used] oils back into new condition and absolutely guarantee their cleanliness and performance.” BRIAN MILNER
His flagship product, Tack Attack, doesn’t use the typical industrial acids and preservatives that are potentially toxic for soil and groundwater – and our lungs if we inhale the fumes.
“I’ve been a chemist for a long, long time, and those products are all made with strong acids that are quite corrosive to the skin and also to everything else. If you leave something like CLR in a metal bucket, it’s eventually going to eat through the metal.”
By comparison, the primary active ingredient in Tack Attack is citric acid, a compound derived from lemon juice, and the spray has a pleasant citrusy scent.
Milner has deep experience as an entrepreneur and is not afraid to rock a few boats. He had been working for one of the largest oil suppliers in Canada and approached his employer about his idea to reclaim the oil that was being used in the company’s machines. “I had developed some processes where we could get [used] oils back into new condition and absolutely guarantee their cleanliness and performance. I went to my boss and said, ‘you know, we could do this.’”
Next, he made a presentation to the board but they turned him down, so he left the job and started his own company, Chem-ecol, in Cobourg, to help transform manufacturers into more environmentally friendly operations. He sold the business in 2012 and happily reports that it has continued to grow; it was bought in 2021 by a leading environmental management company based in Aurora, which plans to further expand its reach.
Milner claims that he’s not out to save the world, but says, “there are some things that are relatively easy to do for the environment.” Choosing 100 percent biodegradable products that are effective and safe for people and the planet is one of them. His formulations are all sourced from natural materials and plants, fruit and seed-based chemicals and their derivatives.
He’s tapped into a positive trend. Analysts say the global household green cleaning products market size is about US$278.5 billion in 2022 and projected to reach US$398 billion by 2027. The market drivers are: increased research and development in the area of eco-friendly products, more consumer awareness and demand, and a willingness to pay a premium for eco-conscious products.
Consider, too, environmental targets to overhaul manufacturing and industry sectors across the board to achieve net zero emissions and greener practices.
The BCM Biodegradable Solutions line includes a dozen other products – a hand soap, a stain remover, a glass and mirror cleaner, a scale remover for rust and lime, and a gentle shampoo and body wash combo that gets rid of the chlorine odour after swimming in a pool or hot tub. “I’ve used it for years myself, it’s great,” says Milner.
It’s clear Milner’s interested in ingenuity and pivoting to market demand. During the pandemic, BCM produced hand sanitizer for health centres and retailers in the area. And he’s constantly reaching out to find new markets. Tack Attack’s applications, for example, are versatile. Roofers have found a use for it to remove tar, and boaters clean away grime and oils on their craft after being out on the water.
He’s also developed a special formulation for estheticians to easily remove wax from their clients’ skin after hair removal treatments.
And one of his more recent additions, Sap Zaprrr, which removes sticky tree sap from skin, tools and machinery, is popular with forestry workers.
What’s most challenging, however, is trying to get shelf space for his products in national retailers like Home Depot and Canadian Tire. “That part’s very frustrating – they just won’t deal with small companies.” But you can find some of the line sold locally in York Super Pharmacy and Benjamin Moore stores.
When he’s not working on market research or possible products to tackle the messes that we all make, he lets his mind soar – literally – focusing solely on flying one of his gliders.
“It’s good for your brain, you’re not thinking about things at home. You’re not thinking about things at work. You’re thinking about the techniques that you need to keep flying and to go the distance that you need to go safely,” Milner says of the thrill and therapy of the sport.
As for what’s next, slowing down doesn’t appear to be on the radar anytime soon. So it likely depends on the next request from his wife.