Plastic is a huge environmental problem and one the world is desperately trying to fix with alternative solutions. Carapac is an Australian company founded by Kimberly Bolton with a unique proposition: the company has found a way to turn crustacean shell waste into materials which make a viable alternative to many forms of soft plastics.
So The Carousel’s Sustainability Editor Ilona Marchetta talked with Kimberly Bolton about this new innovative technology from Carapac and how we might be seeing it in the produce aisle of major retailers very soon.
Kimberly: Thank you so much. Ilona, it’s fantastic to be joining you here today.
Ilona: Tell us about Carapac – what is the technology?
Kimberly: In a nutshell, Carapac has developed a sustainable, durable and plantable plastic alternative that is actually made from crustacean shell waste.
Ilona: That’s very interesting – crustacean shell waste?
Kimberly: Yes – crabs, lobsters, shrimp, prawns, all the shells that you don’t eat, we can actually use that food waste and make a range of different packaging solutions from that.
Ilona: Why crustacean shells?
Kimberly: That’s a very good question. When we were looking at the market currently, and looking at other bio-degradables, we found that they still take up to five years to actually break down and that they’re not necessarily made from sustainable inputs. So, we were looking at a range of other biological sources that we could use and take inspiration from, to actually make a sustainable packaging that breaks down when you need it to, and come from a sustainable source.
So, after doing a lot of research, we actually found that crustacean shells could be a really valuable input for our materials and form a really fantastic solution. And we’re actually sourcing the crustacean shell waste from frozen food processing facilities. So if you think of all the shrimps, crabs or whatnot, that you find in your frozen food aisles, we access the shells that are already taken off at the processing facility level and we use that to actually make our material and there’s about 8.1 million tons of that crustacean shell waste generated from the frozen food industry across Asia Pacific annually.
Ilona: You mentioned that not all biodegradable materials are made equal, so what are some of the benefits of using the shells over some other materials?
Kimberly: A lot of other biodegradables in the space typically, are not necessarily made from sustainable inputs, even if they are bio-based. To elaborate on that a little bit, for example, some PLA and corn based materials, they actually have to clear specific land to grow the specific corn to actually make the packaging material, which can be very environmentally intensive. So we wanted to make sure that we were making a plastic alternative that actually was made from waste or sustainable inputs, that can actually break down when you need it to.
So consumers can take their Carapac packaging, and actually simply just plant it in the soil and on the top level in a pot plant or the garden and it takes three to six weeks to completely break down and it breaks down into the soil and releases nitrogen fertilizer. So it’s actually fantastic for plants. And once it’s in those soil conditions, it can also provide other benefits for plants such as acting as a bio pesticide and what not. And this is very different to other traditional bio plastics and compostable materials that need very specific conditions to actually break down.
What’s more is our material is also designed to be ocean dissolvable. So, if someone doesn’t have a garden or pot plants at home, they can actually dissolve it in a cup or bucket at home and wash it down the sink after a couple of hours. We’ve also made sure that our material is water resistant. So if there is a bit of rain or moisture in the environment, it’s not an issue. It’s more that when our material is actually submerged in water it will actually break down very quickly and provide nutrients within the water and natural, organic nutrients, which is fantastic.
Ilona: I love that. So I’ve heard a couple of things there. One is that a lot of other bio materials are still energy intensive or environmentally damaging to produce. So we’re kind of solving one problem but creating or perpetuating another problem on the other hand. Whereas what you’ve got here is something that’s truly sort of circular, it would otherwise be waste, we would just be tossing it away. But we’ve grabbed it, and we’ve used it to create another resource essentially, and then one that we can be disposed of in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
Kimberly: 100 per cent, and just on that disposal part as well, a lot of other biodegradables and compostables require very specific conditions and Australians and across the world, there’s not necessarily access to infrastructure to actually allow for those conditions and that collection to take place. So we wanted to make sure that anyone who gets a hold of our packaging can actually dispose of it in a really easy and sustainable way.
Ilona: I totally hear you on that, because every time I get a package from some clothing stores, and I won’t name them and you know, it’s very proudly a compostable bag, I live in an apartment, I don’t really have access to compost. And so I’ve got a collection of bags that are compostable for the next time I visit a friend who actually has some way that I can dispose of these bags. And definitely I think, I’m thinking of coffee cups as well takeaway coffee cups, where people don’t realise that you actually still need to dispose of those in a particular way. They’re not just, you don’t just toss them and they disappear. Yeah, yeah, definitely.
So you’ve actually got some packaging on you there, can we have a look at what it looks like?
Kimberly: I have a very snazzy little retail bag for you. So you can just pop that over your shoulder. And for shopping purposes. We also have a beautiful sandwich back that people can use in the lunchbox. So you pop your little sandwich in, and then it’s self-sealable, you just fold it up and press it down. And you can pop that into your lunch bag. I also have a beautiful cling wrap material over here today.
So we actually have a range of different packaging materials, a lot of different fixable ranges, as well as semi rigid and adhesives and obviously the cling wrap that I just showed you here. But our first target is really addressing packaging in the fresh food and food space. And so for example, salad bags and a range of different potential punnets, for strawberries, and tomatoes, and all of that. The reason why we’ve chosen this first go-to market product is that our material also has natural embedded anti microbial properties that can extend the shelf life of those food products by an additional two weeks. And this sort of technology can actually save up to 40% of the existing food waste in the system, and has the potential to save Australia about a million tons annually in greenhouse gas emissions.
Ilona: This is this is like a miracle solution that you’ve got here. How did you how did you get onto this path?
Kimberly: It all actually started from the University of Sydney’s Inventing the Future program, where they combine people from completely different backgrounds and different faculties and challenge you to solve a big problem. And my team got to tackle the plastic product. And I have always been very passionate about solving environmental problems in a practical way. And so in this project, we actually developed the idea for the solution, and have been running with it ever since. There was definitely an ‘aha’ moment, ‘Oh my gosh, this can actually work’. And the more we researched into the actual properties of the different components that we can get out of the crustacean shells and the actual packaging and solutions, the more we’ve been amazed by the potential and the technology. And it’s just been a very exciting journey since then.
Ilona: It sounds like it and so you’ve won the Hatch Accelerator Program, what’s next for Carapac?
Kimberly: We’ve spent a lot of time developing the technology and the packaging and developing a different range. So now going forward, we’re thrilled to have won the Taronga Zoo Hatch program grant. And that money is all going towards setting up a manufacturing facility so that we can scale our production and get our packaging on shelves.
Ilona: Amazing, and how far away do you think that is?
Kimberly: So it’s a bit of an iterative process because we need to go through a range of different trials at different levels, but you should be very excited to find your Carapac packaging on shelves in about a year and a half’s time.
Ilona: That’s great, we’ll all be looking out for it. Thank you so much for chatting to us today. It’s been so exciting to hear about carrier pack and it sounds like a really great solution for a really big problem.
For more information about Carapac, visit here.
For more from The Carousel on sustainability, visit here.