When I was a kid, I remember having a science book that said one day corn cobs would be turned into plastic. I thought that was cool, but it didn’t say that the resulting plastic would be compostable—not that compostability was on anybody’s mind.
Today, with a new process invention, a startup named W-Cycle has not only created a patented replacement for plastic, but a material that is made from sugarcane bagasse, and can be made from other feedstocks like reed, wood and banana leaves and is totally compostable—from the earth and back to the earth. But in between, this replacement for plastic called SupraPulp™ survives in temperatures from −40°C to 270°C (−40°F to 518°F), which means this food-safe material survives freezing, ovens and microwaves. It also is liquid proof and oil proof. W-Cycle’s SupraPulp technology prevents the wetting of the packaging by foods containing oily and moist ingredients—and enables high-quality performance in extreme temperature and high-moisture environments.
To learn more about this material, I spoke with Joseph Siani, cofounder and chief technical officer of W-Cycle.
FE: How and when did you start W-Cycle?
Joseph Siani: W-Cycle was founded in 2017, and SupraPulp™ has been in development since then. I was working in the bio packaging business. The Israeli government challenged the industry to bring up a replacement for the millions of plastic foods trays used in Israeli schools. I realized there was no existing compostable solution that could hold hot and greasy food, especially while it was transported. I then started working to develop SupraPulp.
FE: How did you develop SupraPulp? Was it in conjunction with any universities?
Siani: The process included a lot of trial-and-error to reach the right traits. I based the trials on my personal accumulated knowledge and the expert advice from both Eric Singsaas Ph.D., (co-founder of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology and director of the Materials and Bioeconomy group) and Dr. Izik Yaniv, an expert of nano powders technologies (head R&D mineral processing & advanced materials, I.C.L (I.M.I), CEO of Coating Technologies Ltd.)
FE: In this column, I covered an invention for a biodegradable plastic sheeting. What were your intended applications for SupraPulp?
Siani: SupraPulp is intended to be an ideal substitute for:
- Plastic tray products, which are neither biodegradable nor compostable
- Aluminum tray products, which are toxic and heavily pollute the environment
- Coated fiber trays, which are similar to plastic but cannot be recycled
- Foam trays, typically used by butchers and practically never break down.
We intend to have SupraPulp as a replacement for high-quantity, single-use trays so proliferated in the market today. Just imagine how many trays are used for fresh produce, fresh meat and frozen meals. A single produce packer can use tens of millions of trays per year; all can be replaced with a compostable solution that leaves nothing in the environment.
FE: What makes this material different from other compostable food packaging solutions?
Siani: SupraPulp is not like other compostable food packaging solutions. It’s noncoated, omniphobic and remains completely unaffected by liquids and oils. This makes it a great replacement for rigid plastic.
The containers have unique characteristics compared to standard bagasse containers, which makes them the ideal alternative to plastic trays for food products, especially fresh, frozen or prepared consumer packaged meals. While standard pulp products cannot sustain liquids and oils, SupraPulp containers are oil-and water-resistant and avoid any absorption or leakage. CPET plastic trays are typically used for ready-meal packaging.
Following years of R&D efforts, W-Cycle’s new SupraPulp material is able to be frozen to −
40°C (−40°F) and reheated to 270°C (518°F), inviting a comprehensive range of food applications. After use, the package can be disposed of as organic waste.
FE: How do you protect the material from extreme temperatures and high humidity, yet make it free of dangerous chemicals?
Siani: The general technology is wet fiber molding. This exact process is our patent. It is a specific composition and manufacturing process. It is SupraPulp’s biggest advantage in comparison to other ecofriendly solutions.
FE: Is the material coated? Why or why not?
Siani: It’s noncoated, omniphobic—and remains completely unaffected by liquids and oils.
FE: If a frozen product’s shelf life is one year, does SupraPulp hold up well?
Siani: Yes, SupraPulp can hold in the freezer for a year. It will remain flexible and not become brittle like some plastics. It is possible to have a frozen meal in the freezer for one year, then take it directly into the oven or microwave.
FE: Are you looking for licensees to make the product based on your patented specifications? How do you plan manufacturing and distributing the material?
Siani: We are very open in our strategy, connecting directly with food producers and growers. We are also putting an emphasis on creating relationships with distributors across the globe and welcome new contacts. These can be distributors of ecofriendly packaging products and also plastic packaging distributors looking to serve their customers and improve their impact.
We are also keen to connect with wet fiber molding manufacturers and sugarcane growers.
FE: Is the material available now? Do you have distribution in the U.S.?
Siani: Yes, the material is ready, and we welcome contacts from both end users (food manufacturers, growers and packers) and distributors in the U.S. and around the globe.
FE: How does its cost compare with other materials?
Siani: Considering all costs, our end product is similar in price, or possibly even cheaper than CPET plastic and definitely cheaper than RPET (recycled PET). Low grade, low performing plastics can indeed be cheaper, but those types cannot handle hot food or may turn brittle in the freezer.
FE: How does one dispose of it?
Siani: Dispose SupraPulp packages the same way as you would your salad. SupraPulp is fully compostable.
For more information, visit www.w-cycle.com