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February 2020

Bio-degradable? By Nature?

Depending on one’s perspective and the particular use case, the solution to our packaging problems may be to reduce or eliminate the packaging, use recycled materials, recycle more, transition to reusable packaging, or make it bio-degradable.

Bio-degradable or compostable materials may be a step in the right direction, especially for food packaging, but we’d like to know what that means. In everyday language “compostable” means that an item bio-degrades in the backyard. On most product labels it means “compostable in an industrial facility” which implies controlled conditions such as being inoculated with certain microorganisms, aerated, and kept at a temperature of 136° F and around 50% humidity for 180 days. That’s a high bar and an item that bio-degrades in an “industrial facility” may not do so almost anywhere in nature.

The technical standards and guidelines for bio-degradability are complex, imperfect, and evolving. These standards attempt to replicate and measure in the lab the way materials are decomposed by microorganisms in different environmental conditions, which is not easy, but they do give a sense for how materials may behave. However accurate or inaccurate, the standards are highly technical and do not address our information needs when we want to compare products.

We see an opportunity for a set of consumer facing labels linked to bio-degradability standards / guidelines that can distinguish a hierarchy of bio-degradability, with marine environment bio-degradable as the most desirable, followed by backyard compostable, and industrially compostable. This would enable people to make better choices based on the options available. It would also give brands the ability to differentiate by choosing benign materials and better designs, stimulating innovation.

Speaking of innovation, last year we spoke to over 30 young companies in the packaging innovation space, up from 5 in 2018. Crunchbase also noticed several recent funding rounds larger than $20 million in packaging start-up companies.


Advano, a company using scrap silicon to manufacture batteries, raised $18.5 million.

Allbirds, a shoe brand focused on sustainable materials and comfortable design, is raising up to $75 million.

Dropps, a company that makes and sells laundry detergent pods and other unit-dose household cleaning products in more sustainable packaging, has raised $16 million.

EcoVadis, a company that helps businesses manage and monitor environmental, social and governance risks across their supply chains, raised $200 million.

Fermented Sciences, the maker of the kombucha brand Flying Embers, raised $25 million.

Indigo Agriculture, a company that uses microbiology to help farmers replace chemicals and fertilizers and increase crop yields, raised $200 million.

Kimaï, a direct-to-consumer jewelry brand that uses lab-grown diamonds and recycled gold, raised $1.2 million.

Loliware, a company making straws and other single use items from kelp, raised $5.9 million.

Rebound Technologies, a company developing a greener alternative to vapor compression cooling systems, raised $5 million.

Remrise, a plant-based sleep care supplement brand, raised $8.2 million.

The Renewal Workshop, a company that helps brands run used clothing programs, raised $5.5 million.

Tyton BioSciences, a developer of a chemical recycling technology for the fashion industry, raised $8 million.


Procter and Gamble acquired Billie, a two-year-old, direct to consumer women’s shave and body care products company.

SC Johnson acquired Stasher, a maker of reusable food storage bags made from silicone.

Colgate acquired Hello, a natural, vegan, oral care company founded in 2011.

Also Noted

Vogue takes a closer look at chemicals and microplastics in the apparel industry


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