TIPA’s solution will make food consumption just a bit more guilt-free – environmentally, that is
In a world that likes to eat, food packaging is the #1 contributor to waste. TIPA, founded in Israel in April 2010 by Daphna Nissenbaum and Tal Neuman, has developed a 100% biodegradable and compostable solution for the packaging of food – specifically in the realm of flexible packaging, an industry estimated to be worth $65 billion.
Flexible packaging, in contrast to rigid packaging (e.g. plastic bottles), applies to products such as baked goods, fresh produce, frozen food, and snack food. Think of the common potato chip bag.
For half a decade, Nissenbaum and Neuman have been determined to help sow the green path towards sustainable products, as well as address consumers’ increasing awareness of environmental issues. Many said their goal of completely eco-friendly flexible packaging was impossible.
Julia Schifter, the Business Development Manager at TIPA, shared with Geektime about the startups humble beginning. When the founders first spoke to chemists about their idea, “They were all saying, ‘Impossible, crazy idea, impossible.’ That’s when [Nissenbaum] said, ‘Well, if it’s impossible, I guess here is a startup idea.’”
Five years later, TIPA‘s team has addressed this “impossible” head-on, which has grown from a five to 30-employee organization. Together, they have developed a series of films, compounds, and laminates that degrade in just 180 days.
Green startups sprouting up all over the place
The green path less traveled towards sustainable food packaging has become increasingly crowded. Israeli-based Polysack has manufactured flexible packaging since 1974, though their food focus is limited to candy wrappers and beverage labels. Tadbik, another flexible packaging producer, uses socially responsible materials, though not 100% recyclable.
Beyond Israel, NatureWorks created its Ingeo™ based solutions to reduce the noise levels that have incited backlash over compostable options in the past, such as Pepsi’s “too noisy” biodegradable snack bags. NatureWorks’ single, $150 million round of funding far exceeds TIPA’s $12 million total: TIPA has raised three rounds of funding, the latest one being $10 million. Other companies, such as Bemis and Innovia Films, are direct competition in flexible packaging, though TIPA collaborates with Innovia on certain materials. The plethora of sustainable rigid packaging companies further crowd the green space.
The competitive green space also indicates a demand for sustainable options. In one study, 89% of consumers said they would prefer to buy products in packages they can recycle.
But to be successful, a heart for the environment is not enough. When it comes down to it, people want packaging that looks right, feels right, and does its job. TIPA’s solutions combine several desirable properties: transparency and flexibility (the look and feel), and importantly, what’s called a barrier.
Schifter said, “You don’t want more oxygen and moisture going in and out of the package, which would make the food less crunchy. You need a barrier. In that sense, we can perform as regular plastic.”
Performing as regular plastic is not so simple. The reason that it’s tough to recycle is that “in most cases, when you’re looking at a common potato chip bag, you’re looking at two or three pieces of film together, each a different polymer,” Schifter explained. Usually, these polymers are not biodegradable (as in, they are fossil-fuel plastics derived from petroleum or natural gas). Instead, TIPA’s solution is a blend of bio-based polymers and derived from plant-based sources, which is not an easy technological feat.
Is it affordable to be green?
TIPA’s packaging still faces a different “green” issue: that of money. Environmentalism comes at a high cost.
Schifter admitted that, “One disadvantage is the price.” She noted that TIPA’s solution costs two to three times more than regular plastic due to current economies of scale, though she anticipates the price will go down in a few years.
Many large corporations have proven willing to pay that price. In particular, Schifter noted that efforts such as Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle, on its way towards being 100% plant-based, and Procter & Gamble’s sugarcane-derived plastic bottles reveal a growing market for sustainable packaging.
Yet most companies don’t operate on the Coca-Cola budget. While these big names have the wallets to invest in environmentally-friendly solutions, smaller businesses would never be able to afford TIPA’s technology. Wallets of mom-and-pop businesses contain thumbnail pictures of their kids: they must look out for their own.
TIPA’s flexible packaging will enter the market this year. With the packaging technology signed, sealed, and ready to go, the company awaits to see how many doors will open.
Featured Image Credit: TIPA