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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
These 3 Plant-Based Serviceware Brands Are Deliciously Diverting Plastic Waste

Loliware, Uuvipak and Twiice have created rapidly biodegradable (and even edible) bio-based products that completely upstage their petroleum-based, single-use plastic-polluting counterparts.

It was just over 100 years ago that Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland commercialized the first fully synthetic plastic as a replacement for shellac — a resin with insulating properties. Thanks to their light weight, malleability and resistance, among other properties; plastics are now a part of just about everyone’s daily lives and just about all environments — as evidenced by the discovery of plastic inside the bodies of fish and even beehives. According to Earth.org, the amount of plastic we produce is equivalent to two-thirds of humanity’s total body mass.

Meanwhile, an OECD report on plastic pollution states that between 2000 and 2019, plastic production doubled to reach 460 million tonnes per year — 353 million tonnes of which became waste; the packaging industry alone generates 40 percent of that. Meanwhile, the UN estimates that the sorting and processing of plastic waste is costing the global economy about $80-129 billion, of which less than 10 percent is recycled. As a result, between 75 and 199 million tonnes are currently found in the oceans.

It’s clear that plastics need a rethink; and a growing class of innovative startups has been rising to the challenge in recent years. Here, we look at three such companies giving one of our most ubiquitous materials a much-needed, circular overhaul.

Loliware

Image credit: Loliware

Fascinated by the concept of social innovation and frustrated with the preponderance of ocean plastic pollution, Hawaii-born industrial designer and product developer Sea Briganti decided to take the reins by experimenting with seaweed around 2010 to produce algae-based alternatives for single-use plastic cups.

Starting with a humble, $10,000 Kickstarter campaign that year, Briganti went on to launch Loliware — with its initial offering of "biodegredible," seaweed-based cups — in San Francisco in 2015 and quickly landed $600,000 in funding on the popular startup-pitch competition show, “Shark Tank.” While the company has shifted away from edible plastics, Loliware quickly became a powerhouse dedicated to replacing single-use plastics with hyper-compostable, seaweed-based resins that degrade in marine environments within 51 days.

In 2018, Loliware was among five companies selected by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance for its Ocean Solutions Accelerator program highlighting promising solutions to pressing ocean challenges; and in 2022, the Clinton Global Initiative selected it for participation in its Greenhouse initiative.

As Briganti told Sustainable Brands® (SB), Loliware’s regenerative, compostable resins are made from kelp and red algae sourced from three affiliate seaweed farms in Norway, Spain and the Philippines that grow in 12 weeks or less.

After shifting away from edibles, the company now produces its own SeaTech resins — a one-to-one replacement for conventional, petroleum-based plastic polymers made from regenerative, carbon-capturing, ocean-farmed seaweed — which Briganti says can run on existing plastic-manufacturing equipment to make thousands of different products. Along with the resins, Loliware’s offerings now include seaweed straws — the latest incarnation of which is called the Blue Carbon Straw to “symbolize the critical role seaweed plays in tackling climate change and restoring the health of our ocean” — and an injection-molded, seaweed-based utensil set.

So far in 2023, the startup has completed a $15.4M pre-series A funding round, which made it the market’s best-funded seaweed-materials tech company; was selected by Engage — the collaborative corporate-venture platform backed by Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, Chick-fil-A and other industry leaders — as a member of this year’s Enterprise Go-to-Market-Program; and launched a partnership with José Andrés Group to supply Loliware products to the chef’s restaurants across the US.

Loliware is part of an illustrious cohort of companies — including B’ZEOS, Notpla and Sway — poised to render single-use plastic products irrelevant with their hyper-degradable, seaweed-based innovations. As Loliware continues to grow, Briganti says her aim is to source more seaweed domestically and use the entire kelp biomass to keep the carbon footprint of its resins as low as possible.

Briganti told SB the dream is for Loliware to facilitate a transition towards a new economy where Small Island Developing Nations are given the opportunity to ‘come online’ with seaweed according to “fair trade, indigenous principles and ecological intelligence.”

Working with organizations including the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, the Plant-Based Product Council, and Living Ink — a biotech company supplying the algae-based ink that prints Loliware’s packaging — Briganti recognizes the imperative for business to reshape our relationship to plastics: “We need everyone focused on this challenge. It’s not about Loliware — it’s about climate; it’s about plastic pollution. It’s about creating jobs in the ocean economy; and we cannot do it alone.”


Uuvipak

Image credit: Uuvipak

Determined to address both the plastic crisis and the fact that about a third of all food globally produced is wasted, Australia-based scientist Dr. Shafali Gupta and engineer Andy Epifani got together in 2021 to found Uuvipak — which produces food serviceware from upcycled food-manufacturing waste.

As the company declared in its 2022 Kickstarter campaign, Uuvipak’s products — which include edible bowls, cups and plates — were among the world’s first takeaway solutions made with 100 percent upcycled clean, organic food waste.

Many existing, home-compostable alternatives are made from paper — which requires trees to be cut down and processed with chemicals to become more water resistant. In contrast, Uuvipak’s products are made from food byproducts generated from manufacturing grain flour and processing juice; industry tends to burn these waste products or send them to landfills, where they release potent methane gas — one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Instead, after living out their new life in Uuvipak products, these materials are free to decompose into organic, chemical-free soil — in roughly two weeks in home compost and up to four weeks in generic bins.

In its short tenure, Uuvipak has won $50,000 from Nespresso's inaugural Australian StartCup Challenge (2022); Epifani and Gupta won $10,000 in the Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards, as part of the University of Queensland's 2023 Ventures Ilab Accelerator program; and Uuvipak was featured in StartUS as one of the 10 Top Biodegradable Packaging Startups to Watch in 2023. So far, the company has raised a total of $230K over five funding rounds.

And just in time for Climate Week NYC this week, Uuvipak was named one of Australia's Top 100 Innovators by The Australian.


Twiice

Image credit: Twiice

Meanwhile, in nearby New Zealand … Inspired by a beach trip in 2017 and the desire to reduce the 295 million single-use plastic cups thrown away every year in the tiny country, Jamie Cashmore — alongside his life and business partner, Simone; and his parents, Stephen & Theresa — conceived the delicious idea of an edible coffee cup. Five years of trial and error later, Twiice — now a certified B Corp, was born; and the team decided to open a coffee bar in its Auckland HQ so that the public could test them.

Twiice’s cookie-like cups (which come in chocolate, double chocolate and vanilla) are made from a mix of flour, sugar, water, natural vanilla and coconut oil; and the company says they last for as long as you need to consume your drink — hot or cold. Unlike many other packaging alternatives that are also safe to eat, Twiice’s flavored cups are set to deliver a pleasurable tasting and drinking experience all in one package.

It is still early days for the startup (which didn’t respond to requests for an interview); but according to its site, the cups can be found at a host of cafes across New Zealand and a few in Australia; and the founders have road-tested the cups in the UK and Europe — including sponsoring the 2022 European Coffee Symposium and showcasing the cups at SelfridgesRoasting Plant roastery in London, and with a team at ParisCoutume Café.

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