In the final week leading up to the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) finals on June 5th, where the runner-up will be decided via live online public vote, we will feature daily articles introducing our semi-finalists. Today, meet Ecopia.
Minnesota-based start-up Ecopia offers environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional plastic and paper products, while also driving social value within the communities that create its goods.
Using tapioca starch, the company produces a fully degradable, recyclable and non-GMO bio-plastic, referred to as ECOPLAS®. Currently, their bio-plastic is used for blown film and injection-molding applications, such as reusable bags, packaging solutions, transport bags, clothing hangers and fixtures.
“ECOPLAS is a resin, a new polymer made from tapioca starch at a molecular level, and is a material that is an alternative to regular plastics. When ECOPLAS material is exposed to common microbes, they will attach to the material and consume it over time,” says Paul Norell, COO of Ecopia Worldwide.
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This means that if tossed on the side of the street or tangled in the natural environment — though this is not where Ecopia hopes its ECOPLAS®-based products will end up — products made from ECOPLAS will decompose in a fraction of the time of traditional plastic products.
According to the company, “ECOPLAS was specifically designed to biodegrade in natural settings, because the unfortunate reality is that most of the discarded plastics around the world are not trashed or recycled. Because tapioca is a food source, the tiny microbes found in soil and seawater consume the ECOPLAS products until it disappears. ECOPLAS is also unique in that it does not require light or air to degrade.”
Ecopia’s research and development team spent roughly ten years developing ECOPLAS’s tapioca-based technology, to ensure that the process is as sustainable as possible from cradle to grave. Ecopia implements sustainable agricultural processes, translating into a product that it is non-GMO, with a low-carbon footprint.
“We are excited by how low our carbon footprint is compared to competitive technologies and methods. From measuring of raw inputs such as water and energy, sun drying of starch and simple farming methodologies, we can determine that ECOPLAS offers a much lower carbon footprint than others,” says Norell.
The company chose tapioca as the base for their bio-plastic resin, because tapioca is a renewable resource that grows abundantly in some of the world’s poorest countries. The company’s long-term mission is to “achieve significant life improvements among the very poor in seven target countries/regions: Indonesia, South India, China, Mozambique, Nigeria, Honduras and Brazil.”
Norell says, “Developing countries in the tropics are rich in natural resources yet relatively poor economically. We wanted to find a way to take a low-value crop that is grown only in the tropics and add value to it, creating long-term effects and benefit to small stakeholder farms and their communities.”
With this in mind, it is no surprise that ECOPLAS’s products are certified by Fair for Life, to ensure that human rights are respected along their supply chain.
Since perfecting its ECOPLAS technology, Ecopia has begun producing and selling the resin to factories, along with finished goods to retailers through its subsidiary, Tirta Marta. In fact, its early client list includes well-known retailers such as Mall of America, Bloomberg, Nickelodeon Universe and footwear retailer Sanuk, as well as sportswear companies Billabong and Hurley.
“Customers have found our material an excellent alternative to regular plastic and align very well with their own sustainability goals. Our market is brand owners and retailers who have sustainability goals that would align with our story and vision of supporting the small developing country farms, as well as using an environmentally superior material for the planet.”