Care2 Editor’s Note: Below is a guest post from Shannon Boase, Founder & CEO of Earthcycle Packaging Ltd. Boase is a winner of a 2009 SVN Innovation Award, which recognizes the work of cutting-edge social entrepreneurs. Social Venture Network (SVN) catalyzes collaboration among the world’s leading social venture entrepreneurs to create transformational innovation, growth and impact. Are you an innovative social entrepreneur? SVN is accepting applications through April 15 for the 2010 SVN Innovation Awards. Click here to apply.
By Shannon Boase, Founder & CEO of Earthcycle Packaging Ltd.
I first moved to Malaysia in 1996, when I got a job with the Malaysian government to help them get their emerging tech sector off the ground. After my contract expired and I had dabbled in the Internet bubble with a start up, I set up my own consulting company that, broadly speaking, would commercialize ideas, technologies and polices. One of my clients, the venture capital arm of the Malaysian government, hired me to help figure out what to do with palm fiber waste.
Malaysia is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world and also the world’s second largest palm oil producer. They handed me a sample of the raw material and I immediately saw some serious potential to turn this renewable resource into something useful. The leftover palm fiber was mostly incinerated or dumped in landfills, causing many negative environmental impacts. I had been personally affected by the incineration of this material – the air pollution was at times so bad that I would get dizzy and my allergies became acute. So my mission began.
The kernel of an idea to turn the waste into packaging was already there, but not really fully developed. The idea really took off after my return to North America in 2004. After living overseas for 15 years and not being accustomed to North American consumption practices, I was overwhelmed to see how our society had become so addicted to plastic packaging and realized the mounting waste problem. I knew that palm fiber has the tensile strength of titanium, I knew it is mouldable, and what’s more, I realized this natural, renewable resource had the potential to help address several challenges: Malaysia’s air pollution caused in part by incineration of palm fiber, the sustainable development of Malaysia’s palm oil industry, and North America’s addiction to plastic and increasingly overflowing landfills. Earthcycle Packaging Ltd. was born!
Since 2005, Earthcycle has developed an innovative way to turn palm fiber waste into environmentally responsible packaging alternatives such as produce packaging, food trays and other applications.
We source our raw fiber from plantations in west Malaysia that have been reviewed against principles and criteria established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It was really important to me that I would establish a company that from the beginning, would ensure that the sources of raw material we use have not replaced any primary forest, nor converted any Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) for the purpose of palm oil production.
Our packaging follows the cycle of nature – our product life cycle starts with a natural renewable resource and through composting, ends up as humus, creating valuable nutrients for the soil. All our products have been certified as home compostable and will break down in the compost within 90 days.
In the meantime, Earthcycle has become a trusted, award-winning leader in providing certified home compostable packaging across North America, protecting and displaying both conventional and organic fresh produce in Wal-Mart, Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, Publix, Kroger, Whole Foods, Loblaw’s and Sobey’s retail locations, among others.
We are cost competitive with PET plastic resin and PLA corn plastic. Also, as an example, one of the key advantages of Earthcycle palm fiber packaging over PLA is our home compostable status. PLA requires high-temperature commercial composting systems and doesn’t qualify for backyard composting. You can read more about these topics and others related at EarthcycleBlog.com.
It’s been easy for us to ignore the direct impact our habits and decisions have on the environment, but we won’t be able to turn a blind eye forever. We cannot continue to simply throw things away in the hopes that they will just disappear. Unfortunately, there is no place called “away”. Every plastic carton in a landfill dramatically reduces the quality of the environment that we all depend on – every carton, every purchase decision, and every action, no matter how large or small, matters.
At Earthcycle, we expect individuals and organizations to make responsible purchasing decisions, so part of our job must be to not only provide them with alternatives, but to also give them access to the necessary information and tools to help them with the decision making process. As such, we aspire to be a catalyst and among the leaders in helping individuals and organizations make better purchasing decisions by playing a proactive role in creating awareness, educating, engaging, and fostering dialogue for change.
photo credit: Earthcycle Packaging Ltd.