Tired of Plastic? These Businesses Have Ideas for You


This article is part of our continuing Fast Forward series, which examines technological, economic, social and cultural shifts that happen as businesses evolve.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.

Footprint was born of Mr. Swope’s work for 15 years as an engineer at Intel, where he became an “accidental environmentalist.” He saw firsthand the many different elements of plastic packaging that accompanied Intel products and was stunned by the amount of waste in the shipping and in the supply chain in general. He was even more alarmed that silicon wafers, elements of Intel’s processors, were considered contaminated after being transported in plastic that was similar to the tubs of cut fruit from the grocery store.

“We found the same level of contamination on the food that we did on the wafer,” he said, adding, “if it’s bad for a wafer, it’s bad for a human.”

Mr. Swope described a trip to Hawaii with Yoke Chung, his Footprint co-founder and colleague at Intel, many years ago where they realized that, because of ocean pollution and climate change, they were going to have to tell their children “what the ocean used to look like.”

“So that combination of what we saw happening to the ocean, and the food contamination and, later on, what it was doing to our kids, made us say, ‘Let’s go do something about it.’”

“We use plastic for five minutes, and it ends up in the ocean for 100 years,” Mr. Paslier said, explaining the company’s interest in providing alternatives to plastic used for on-the-go foods.

She lugged reusable jars and bags to grocery stores, feeling self-conscious, she said. “I struggled a lot in those 18 months, and I was like, ‘Nobody is going to be able to do this; nobody is going to live this lifestyle if they have kids or a full-time job.’”

Like an old-fashioned milkman model “with supercharged technology,” Zero Shop drops off groceries in reusable containers — mostly glass and silicone — which are then washed by customers, and picked up with the next delivery.

The company, which currently only serves the Bay Area with plans to expand, offers around 400 items, with everything from fresh produce and meat to chips and popcorn.

Ms. Strasner said that the company, somewhat surprisingly, had grown by about 200 percent week over week during the shutdown, and that consumers had not expressed concern about bringing reusable items into their homes. Fewer people, she said, touch her products than those at a grocery store, given the length of the traditional supply chain, not to mention indecisive shoppers.

Imagine receiving a television set in a box, its corners swaddled in plastic foam. Now, imagine that padding is made of mushrooms.

Ecovative grows packaging by filling custom-shape molds with agricultural residues like wood chips, which act as a food source, and mycelium cells. The mycelium feeds on the wood chips, growing its fibers around and through the food source, and, in four to six days, takes on the shape of the mold, which can then be removed.

Ecovative develops its technologies and then licenses them to producers, who can then grow their own mushroom packaging or leather. As a result, it is not a consumer-facing company, so it has been less affected by the pandemic.

In the end, it all comes full-circle, unless it’s plastic, which isn’t going anywhere.

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