Neha Jain’s skilled journey has been fairly a journey. From being a scholar of journalism, she went on to dabble with a profession in Google after which shaped a start-up. As we speak, she is on the helm of Zerocircle — which crafts bio-soluble packaging from seaweed and has been within the information for bagging the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize. Valued at $1.2 million (comprising a money part and direct funding) the worldwide competitors was launched by designer Tom Ford in collaboration with non-profit Lonely Whale in 2020. It goals at discovering corporations who ‘supply and scale marine-safe and biologically degradable options to conventional thin-film plastic comprised of fossil fuels’. Along with Zerocircle, which bagged second place, Sway (which got here first), and Notpla (at third place), additionally work with seaweed within the US and UK respectively.
Taking us by way of the journey, Neha says it started in 2020 when her have to “not have plastic in the home” gave delivery to Zerocircle. ”I realised that nevertheless arduous I attempted, successfully lowering one’s carbon footprint would want far more than simply particular person aware shopper decisions. As I researched extra I realized that the merchandise we find yourself utilizing in our every day lives find yourself polluting our planet. Even these which had been labelled ‘sustainable’ and ‘inexperienced’ weren’t actually that,” says Neha.
What adopted was analysis and a number of other journeys to the shoreline of Maharashtra with main marine biologist CRK Reddy. “I puzzled if this huge reserve of seawater might be the answer. And there I discovered seaweed — the miraculous crop that may be the inspiration on which I constructed my firm.” Neha explains how seaweed is a quickly rising renewable useful resource which makes it a extra sustainable different to conventional plastic, derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. “It doesn’t depend upon land or freshwater or chemical substances to develop.”
Exploring Mumbai’s shoreline
She learnt how completely different sorts of seaweed can present distinctive options to our biopolymer and supplies. “One of many key learnings from our analysis was that the properties of seaweed can fluctuate tremendously relying on components such because the species, location, and season.” She additionally realized that seaweed-based supplies are renewable, carbon-efficient, and regenerative, and these properties “lend to the biodegradability and composability of our merchandise”. The preliminary area journeys, says Neha, served as a reminder that the sourcing must be sustainable as properly.
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Zerocircle makes use of completely different species of seaweed and “all of them have lots to supply as supplies”. “Seaweed has a greater potential as a supply of bioplastics because of their larger biomass, and quick fee of replica,” she says, including how the fabric has pliability lending flexibility to their clear movies. “Meals paper packing containers have a really skinny line of coating that makes them oil-resistant. That is the hidden plastic nobody talks about. Our seaweed-based coatings are recyclable and compostable.”
All components underwent a year-long rigorous testing and reviewing by the workforce at Tom Ford. This included the fabric being immersed in a simulated (artificially created) whale intestine and “they inferred that our materials is ocean secure, secure for marine life, and bio-digestible”.
A peek on the manufacturing
Neha explains that the biomass is first taken from farms, the place it’s cultivated by hand, after which solar-dried earlier than it reaches their facility. “As soon as the fabric involves us, we pre-process it to take away impurities to make it food-safe. We use our patent-pending know-how to course of completely different extracts to make numerous merchandise. Sure extracts go into the processing of the pellets that are then used to create the skinny, clear movies that are the choice to single-use plastic packaging,” she says, including how they work with native communities to “make sure that the farming practices are sustainable to keep away from overfishing.”
As for the merchandise, she says they are going to be commercially obtainable out there later this yr. “At the moment, we’re working with world vogue manufacturers within the US and the EU, and meals, and residential care manufacturers to develop an optimised product for the market.” So, in case you are taking a look at making the swap to seaweed packaging on your enterprise and questioning concerning the pricing, Neha says the price of the ultimate product will “depend upon a number of components, as an example, the appliance, the trade, and the volumes. However to offer an estimate, Zerocircle merchandise will probably be 2.5x of conventional plastic pricing,” she provides.
And in case you are questioning what to anticipate from the winners, Lonely Whale will quickly launch an Innovation Accelerator. This, they are saying, is to make sure the businesses ‘obtain widespread market adoption of their modern options to conventional thin-film’ and bulletins are anticipated this month.