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June 29, 2013

So many cool, plastic-free innovations; so little time and blog space

 

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I attended the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Think Beyond Plastics Competition conference two weeks ago and have been trying to find the time to sit down and write about it ever since! There were so many cool plastic-free innovators and activists there, I barely know where to begin. If you will recall from my previous post, the competition sought to reward and support creative start-up entrepreneurs working to be part of the plastic pollution solution.  Such as…

Pulpworks

Pulpworks was one of the grand prize winners. The company wants to replace the frustration of the plastic blister pack with a more eco-friendly option made entirely from recycled paper.  Instead of this…

wouldn’t it be nice if, in situations where packaging is necessary, that packaging was made from compostable, 100% post-consumer waste paper?

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As you can see, there isn’t even any glue in this package.  Just paper pulp and cardboard.

 

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Now if only we could get the manufacturers of the products that go into the packaging to use less plastic for their containers.  Lip balm does not have to be sold in a plastic tube.  Compostable cardboard lip balm tubes have existed for several years.

I got to meet Pulpworks CEO Paul Tasner and ask him some questions.

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But the packaging speaks for itself.  The only real question I had–one which many of you are probably wondering–was… since there is no plastic encasing the items, aren’t they easier to steal?  Paul said that actually, if someone is going to steal something, they are not likely to try and get it out of the packaging in the store but slip the entire package into their coat or bag.  So a blister pack is not necessarily the theft deterrent that you might think.

Truly Raw Gourmet

I was so excited when this cute, energetic woman recognized me and came bounding over.  It was Kippy Miller from Truly Raw Gourmet.  If you’ve read my book Plastic-Free, you may remember her as one of the heroes in the Grocery Shopping chapter.

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Truly Raw Gourmet makes delicious organic sorbets packaged in returnable glass jars.  At least I’m guessing they are delicious.  Truly Raw Gourmet is only in Southern California right now, and it’s important to Kippy to only use local ingredients, so this product is not shipped all over the country.  If Truly Raw Gourmet does expand, its new locations will make sorbet from the local produce that is in that location.

So, how do you freeze sorbet–which starts out liquid–in glass without breaking the jars?  Avoiding plastic (including the plastic that lines all cardboard ice cream containers) was such a priority, that Kippy invented a special process.  By first churning the mix in a big gelato machine, she allows the mixture to expand as it partially freezes.  Then, she can fill the jars with the already-expanded sorbet, and they won’t crack.

Want to know more about Kippy and how she got started?  You’ll have to read my book.

in.gredients

Another guy I was super excited to meet in person was Christian Lane, one of the founders of in.gredients grocery store in Austin, TX, and one of the winners of Think Beyond Plastic’s Most Promising Emerging Business award.  in.gredients sells most of its food (except meat and dairy) in bulk bins and actively encourages its customers to bring their own containers to fill.  What’s more, these guys are not just interested in the consumer packaging we would see as customers, but in the packaging of the foods as they are delivered to the store.

 

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Here’s the thing that Christian said during his talk that impressed me so much I had to tweet it:

“It’s important to educate customers.”  That one statement is truly disruptive to the status quo because too many businesses, when questioned about their plastic packaging, say that they can’t switch to X, Y, or Z because their customers won’t like it.  Their customers expect a certain level of packaging.  Well you know what?  If you’re a business owner who truly cares about the planet, be part of the solution and educate your customers.  The in.gredients website is full of all kinds of information about food and packaging in the United States.

I can’t wait to actually visit the store this coming October when I’m in Austin for the SXSW Eco conference.  If you’re going to SXSW Eco, let me know.  I’ll be one of the panelists in the session called “The Sustainability Health Nexus: Consumers Rule” and am working on organizing a plastic-free living talk at in.gredients while I’m in the area.

MBA Polymers

MBA Polymers is a plastics recycling company.  Yeah, I know what I’ve said about recycling plastic… it isn’t the entire answer to the plastic pollution problem since it’s primarily downcycling into secondary products and since most of our plastic recycling is shipped to China.

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Mike Biddle, the founder and president of MBA Polymers, is all too familiar with the way recycling is done in China.  He has toured Chinese recycling facilities and witnessed workers burning the plastic and smelling the fumes to determine what type of plastic an object is made from.  He wants to change the way recycling is done.  I didn’t have a chance to talk to him in depth at the conference but hope to interview him soon for this blog.

Old Friends

Other people I was happy to hang with (and act stupid with) were Jay Sinha from Life Without Plastic (a long-time sponsor of this blog and another one of the heroes mentioned in my book — he’s on the far right)…

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and Michael Davis from U.S. Pure Water (in the middle) who provides bulk purified water stations for events all over the Bay Area and sells water treatment systems for not only homes but also natural grocery stores and coops, so people can bottle their own filtered, local tap water.  (Yep, both companies are in the book.)

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Green Royalty

Alice Waters has been a pioneer in the local food movement for decades, and her restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, was one of the first to eliminate bottled water from its menu.  In fact, I remember when it happened.  The move was so revolutionary, it made the news.  I think it was the first time I ever considered the idea that there could be something wrong with bottled water.  So I was really happy to see her at the Think Beyond Plastic conference.  Here we are along with Dianna Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, who had actually just introduced me to Alice Waters a few weeks before.

 

 

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During that initial conversation, we started talking about avoiding plastic bags at farmers markets, and Alice launched into  an explanation of how you can organize your baskets and reusable bags to avoid plastic ones and still keep your produce intact.  I’m hoping to interview her soon as well and post pix of Alice with her produce basket.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

Another face of the green movement is actor and eco activist Ed Begley, Jr.  Ed was the Master of Ceremonies for the Think Beyond Plastic conference.   Here we are with his daughter, Amanda, an ardent anti plastic pollution activist with whom I hope to strategize in the near future.  You can follow her on Twitter at @AmandaBegley77.

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Many, Many More

It was awesome to be in the same room with so many like-minded people… too many to mention them all.  But if you would like to check out some cool companies creating solutions to plastic pollution, look at the full list of contestants for the Think Beyond Plastic competition.   The competition/conference organizers plan to make this an annual, international event.  So if you have an innovative solution to propose and would like to present your idea to investors and get some coaching, keep checking the website for an announcement of the 2014 competition.

 

P.S. For a much more in-depth run-down of the conference and speakers, please check out Jay Sinha’s post on the Life Without Plastic blog.

 



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12 comments
Wanda J Harding
Wanda J Harding

This was/is the same idea I have had for about two years now!! I just do not have the money, nor could I get the money to start my own store... I am so frustrated..... but, at the same time, very glad to see someone is doing this... I AM VERY EXCITED!!  Lately, I have been trying to think of how I could come up with the money needed for this.. I mean, it is just about the same idea as mine... even right down to doing the soaps and personal products, too. I have started a business plan, but have been inconsistent on working on it because of feeling defeated about the money.... I hope you guys are successful with your In.gredients store......Good Luck!!

Sarah
Sarah

Hi! Trying to do my part in the beauty industry..would love for you to check out product line I created. Unique shampoo/conditioner granules 100% plant-base, biodegradable packaged in paper tubes. You just add hot water/or tea in reusable bottle/unit and stir/shake. www.salonsolids.com  

I admire your leadership for this cause:).

Thank you! Sarah

kevin9
kevin9

The conference seemed to focus a lot on green products, and not so much businesses maintaining green practices. Was this the case?

kdfgreene
kdfgreene

I love hearing things like this.  I love knowing there are sooo many people out there trying to solve the problem at the source!  Those blister packs are the WORST invention ever.  Besides the plastic issue, they are extremely annoying to open.  As a consumer, I DO NOT WANT THESE.  Do you guys hear me?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Yay Anna Cummins! That's awesome!

Catherine N
Catherine N

The one concern I have about buying in bulk is avoiding gluten.  Does he take any steps to prevent/minimize cross-contamination in his store?   

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator
Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator moderator

@Catherine N Great question! I just got off the phone with Timothy of in.gredients Grocery Store and he said they are very careful about cross contamination of their products especially when it comes to gluten free items. They make sure to follow proper handling protocol when dealing with these types of items. They have some suppliers who only make gluten free products so the chance of cross contamination is very low. Timothy also gave an example of their gluten free pizza dough that they get from a supplier who also makes non gluten free dough. So that suppliers facility could have a higher probability of having cross contamination than with suppliers who offer only gluten free products. I try and eat gluten free mostly myself but only have a slight allergy to gluten. For those suffering from celiac disease I would be more weary of buying items that came from suppliers who sell both gluten free and gluten products as well. Hope this helps. 

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