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PulpWorks Out to Save People and Planet from Painful Plastic Packaging

PulpWorks' PW-Pack as used by EO Products (center), along with concepts for potential future uses | Image credit: PulpWorks

Each week leading up to our SB London conference, where the winner of the SB London Innovation Open (SBIOL) will be announced on November 18, we will get to know each of our four finalists. This week, meet PulpWorks.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that we need viable, scalable alternatives to plastic packaging. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in 2012 that 30% of landfill waste is made up of plastic packaging - which equals about 700 million pounds of PVC packaging per year in the United States alone. Five-ten percent of this can be attributed to blister packs. Not only is the amount of plastic waste a problem, it is compounded as the plastics break down in landfills — releasing toxic methane into the atmosphere. Luckily, sustainable solutions for everything from chocolate wrappers to coffee pods are already on the market, and San Rafael, CA-based PulpWorks, Inc. is taking on the ubiquitous blister packaging.

Co-founder and CEO Paul Tasner has a 35-year history in the consumer packaged goods industry and supply chain management. He and Elena Olivari, co-founder and vice president of R&D, have “embraced the challenge of turning the traditional packaging industry upside down.” The pair are working to “mold a better world” with the PW-Pack, their patent-pending alternative to plastic blister packs.

In 2011, Tasner, a scientist with a PhD in Mathematics, and Olivari, who has a history in green architecture and design and corporate social responsibility, created an environmentally friendly alternative to the toxic PVC blister pack, all while staying price-competitive.

Tasner says the idea for the PW-Pack came when his wife bought a cutting tool designed to open blister packs, which are notoriously hard to open (and dangerous — when cut, the hard plastic causes thousands of lacerations per year, Tasner says). Ironically, the tool itself was packaged in a blister pack and Tasner realized a replacement for toxic PVC blister packaging was overdue. He and Olivari had already planned to start a new venture together and their backgrounds made creating PulpWorks the obvious next step.

As more and more consumers show loyalty to companies committed to waste reduction and more sustainable alternatives, PulpWorks’ PW-Pack is poised to take over the market. The pack is comprised of 100% recycled pulp and paper, contains no plastic and can be composted when discarded. Each year 130 million pounds of CO2e are generated each year as a result of PVC production for packaging. Through the elimination of plastic packaging, PulpWorks’ immediate goal is to prevent more than half a million pounds of CO2e from entering the atmosphere.

Historically, PVC blister pack manufacturing has been a tough market to compete against since the cost of materials and production is relatively low. While the PW-Pack’s assembly is roughly 30% more than that of PVC blister packs, the materials used for the PW-Pack are around 45% less expensive, making PW-Packs a cost-effective, as well as eco-friendly, alternative to blister packs.

PulpWorks is also up against the familiarity and tried-and-true aspect of blister packaging, which can make companies reluctant to change. While PVC packs are known for their durability, keeping the products within secure and clean, PulpWorks says the PW-Pack outperforms materials such as foams and plastics with superior product cushioning and protection and is also temperature-resistant.

PulpWorks operates with three revenue models: a turnkey approach, in which PulpWorks provides the customer with all of the labor and materials necessary to package and distribute their product; a package-only option; and a licensing option. The supply chain is made up of nine partners — printers, pulp manufacturers, assembly, warehousing, freight and distributors — whom PulpWorks considers important stakeholders in their company.

Personal care brands EO Products and Avocado Magic have already adopted the PW-Pack and PulpWorks is in talks with Nike, P&G, Clorox, Google, Symantec, Guthy-Renker, U.S. Dept. of Defense and Acorn Footwear.

Tasner says being named a finalist in SB’s Innovation Open London is an incredible opportunity to expand its potential reach. “PulpWorks is delighted with the chance to meet key figures in the European consumer packaged goods community [at SB London] because of the leadership role that Europe has played in greening the industry.”

Next week: GravityLight.

SB Issues in Focus For more examples of #startups increasing social and environmental sustainability through disruptive innovation, check out our Issue in Focus.

Courtney has been with Sustainable Brands as the Marketing & Partnership Coordinator since August 2012.  Before joining the Sustainable Brands team, she worked in the sustainability field with My Planet, TheBlu, and the Alameda County Green Business Program

Courtney earned a Masters degree in… [Read more about Courtney Pankrat]


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