- With c. 8m tonnes of plastic ending up in the oceans each year, a number of start-up and innovators have risen to the challenge of producing materials that produce zero waste.
- San Francisco-based Mango Materials, for example, has developed a bioplastic that is cost-competitive with petroleum-based plastics by transforming the greenhouse gas methane from landfill and wastewater treatment into bioplastic.
- Ecovative Design invented a mycelium materials platform that can grow objects by combining shredded agricultural byproducts with the vegetative root structure of a mushroom. Its “mushroom packaging” is home compostable and cost-competitive with conventional foams such as expanded polystyrene or polyethylene.
- Cambridge-based BeeBee Wraps has developed clingfilm alternatives made of organic cotton and beeswax-coated cotton, which are reusable, washable, and compostable
Analysis and Comments
- At this stage it is tough to make meaningful judgments on the financial viability of many of these business models, as they are mostly at very early stage.
- Initial analysis indicates that for many plastic uses, alternatives continue to have a number of practical & financial negatives.
- This is largely why the same plastic uses reappear regularly in the “we can fix this” discussion – these include bio plastics (& no – we are not going to push Corbion again)
- The EU recently passed a vote that gives member states two years’ time to implement a ban on plastic straws, cutlery, cups, drink stirrers, and sticks for balloons.
- The scheme further requires member states to implement incentive systems to reach the goal of 90% return rate on plastic bottles by 2025 and makes producers of single-use plastics pay for their clean-up.
- However, if the ban on single-use plastics resulted an uptake in use of single-use paper products, it could potentially have similarly harmful effects on the environment.
Analysis and Comments
- Replacing one single-use material with another is obviously not the right answer. The pulp and paper industry specifically is a large contributor to the issue of deforestation, and there is an on-going debate around how much more energy and water is used in the production of paper products vs. plastic equivalents.
- This is why expanding and improving the recycling industry is a good start, but does not replace the need to find viable, cost-effective, and environmentally superior alternative materials.
- How feasible some of the requirements under the new law will end up being, given that half of EU member states are currently in danger of missing their 2020 recycling targets. According to the European commission, some of the 14 countries at risk of missing the 50% target by 2020 are not even likely to reach the goal by 2025.
- Addressing these serious gaps will require drastic (policy) changes – which is one of the reasons currently the recycling space is the most interesting from a thematic investment perspective.