Waste products such as avocado stones, citrus peels, and potato skins are the new raw materials.
The new gold for entrepreneurs can be found in the dumpsters of large agrobusinesses. Waste products such as avocado stones, citrus peels, and apple, grape, and potato skins have become the new raw materials for startups. One of the main benefits is that it’s not food; it’s waste.
Based on a circular economy, these startups are sustainable and try to duplicate nature, where everything is used and nothing is wasted. Tec Review introduces some of these entrepreneurs.
We recommend: Entrepreneurship: A guide to starting your own business
Biofase, based in Monterrey, is the only company producing biopolymers in the country. Scott Munguía, founder and CEO, shared details about his company with Tec Review.
Scott started Biofase in 2012, when he was still in his fourth semester of chemical engineering at Tec de Monterrey.
He didn’t want to develop bioplastics from food such as corn, potato, or cassava, so he searched for an alternative.
“I thought about the avocado stone because it’s a very common agricultural waste product in Mexico, with around 300,000 tons discarded each year,” says Scott Munguía.
The Tec graduate worked for about eight months in the laboratory to develop the technology used by Biofase and tested the bioplastic. When he had the technology ready, he relied on the university’s business development program.
In 2012, Scott incorporated his company, established how it would operate, and patented the technology.
Biofase is a 100% Mexican company that develops sustainable disposables by converting avocado stones into bioplastic. (Photo: Facebook)
His company gets the stones from large avocado agrobusinesses. “It’s garbage to them, but for us, it’s the raw material that we buy, collect, and transform,” he said. The company also receives stone donations from people, restaurants, and other businesses that want to contribute.
The technology developed by Munguía is secret, but the result is a composition of 60% avocado stone biopolymers and 40% synthetic organic compounds. Currently, they make cutlery, food containers, and straws.
This material is similar to plastic in terms of mechanical resistance and solid structure, but it is better because it doesn’t take thousands of years to decompose and has a much lower carbon footprint.
Biofase products decompose in soil or landfills within 240 days.
Why is it sustainable? Petroleum-based plastics disrupt the natural carbon cycle, but his bioplastic puts the carbon in avocados back into the natural cycle by using it as input, says Scott.
“People are increasingly aware that we can’t use plastic for everything, and they’re demanding better practices from businesses, which is why our demand has increased and the price has improved,” he says.
Biofase developed its first factory between 2013 and 2014. Today, it has three locations and exports to 25 countries. The company’s methods have also been refined. They only sold bioplastic in the beginning, but now they have their own brand of disposables.
“The avocado is a very characteristic product of Mexico, recognized worldwide. Guacamole is Mexican, and I love that our products have a very direct and intimate relationship with Mexican culture, and we take advantage of that to present ourselves, with great pride, as a 100% Mexican company,” says Scott.
Scott Munguía hopes that soon other entrepreneurs will discover the potential of the country’s agricultural by-products.
You may be interested in: Investors say this is the best time to start a business in Mexico
On the other side of the world, in London, designers Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll found the material that many London artists needed in potato skins.
Nicoll tells Tec Review the story of Chip[s] Board.
In college, the founders explored alternative materials to create sustainable items. Rowan Minkley worked in the kitchens at Kingston University London in the United Kingdom (where he was studying), so he had access to a lot of potato skins and kitchen “waste.”
Both designers started processing the waste and obtained a great bioplastic for many applications, including fashion glasses and clothing buttons.
“My co-founder and I don’t come from a scientific background so –even though the prototypes worked early on– there were a lot of gaps that needed to be filled. The most difficult thing was the creation of the multidisciplinary team that we have today,” says Nicoll.
They use white biotechnology to treat waste. This is an industrial area that works on the improvement of manufacturing processes, bioplastics development, and other efficient and sustainable technologies.
“Our Chip[s] Board polymer chemists can take organic waste from potatoes and turn it into bioplastics,” he says.
The company has partnered with McCain, a frozen food company and one of the UK’s largest potato processors, as well as other agrobusinesses.
“Materials should have a short shelf life, so our vision is to create materials that work with nature’s cycles, not against them,” says Nicoll.
The goal of these entrepreneurs is to make biomaterials the standard within the design industry and not an alternative option.
This company also aims to educate consumers about its materials, so they know what to do when their product’s shelf life ends.
Food waste startups are trending around the world as a response to the environmental crisis. In New York, SAMARA makes vegan leather bags from apple skins. In Spain, Piñatex makes clothing, footwear, and accessories from pineapple leaves.
TAGS: entrepreneurship, food waste, sustainable startups