More than 74,000 microplastic particles enter a person’s body each year as they eat, drink, and breathe. Microplastics can be toxic to humans and to the environment. They originate from the 400 million tons of plastic produced every year, about 36% of which is used for packaging and has a very short lifespan. The majority of plastic waste isn’t recycled and turns into microplastics by slowly degrading in landfills. Clearly, the “take-make-waste” system of the plastic industry isn’t sustainable.
It’s never too late to mitigate the effects of plastic on ecosystems. So how can society replace a material that has been omnipresent for more than 60 years? The best solution is to stop using plastic. But that’s easier said than done. Many industries cannot operate without plastic, so alternatives to petroleum-based plastic are emerging. Biobased and biodegradable plastics release less greenhouse gasses and pollution than their oil-based counterparts. But they still come with their own challenges. Some alternative formulas have the same level of toxins as petroleum-based plastics. Others require land to grow corn or sugarcane as components — land and food that could otherwise be used for human consumption.
This June, three startups in particular are working to improve society’s relationship with plastic. StarchTek is prototyping a starch- and paper-based polystyrene. Many companies shipping fragile or fresh products rely on petroleum-based polystyrene to keep their products safe. But this material cannot be recycled. To solve this issue, StarchTek has created a biodegradable and dissolvable polystyrene with the same functions as traditional Styrofoam.
Biodegradable bio-based plastic is a fantastic invention. But Timeplast is going even further. The company created a material that can replace various types of hard and soft plastics and completely dissolves in water in about 12 hours. The plastic is made out of alcohol and returns to the same molecules — belonging to the hydroxyl group, such as ethanol — after dissolution. Releasing hydroxyl into wastewater can be beneficial as it degrades other pollutants, such as antibiotics and bisphenol A. And the alcohol released by Timeplast’s product breaks down in the environment in a matter of days.
Plastics are everywhere. They are used in clothes that wrap people’s skin and in intimate products. Incontinence and menstruation pads are made of 80% plastic. Plastic keeps incontinence pad users drier than cotton. But most of it is derived from petroleum, releasing chemicals and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere during its production. Attn: Grace sells incontinence pads made with upcycled sugarcane-based plastics. The production of this plastic is more environmentally friendly, even if its disposal is still a concern.
Plastic is still a material that is needed in some industries, such as the medical field. While reducing its use is difficult, bio-based and biodegradable plastics can be better alternatives. They are not perfect, but they are a first step toward improved utilization and management of plastic.
In June, 21 companies with positive social and environmental impacts started raising online. Keep reading to learn more about these impact-driven startups.
And happy impact investing!
Attn:Grace – Deal to Watch
Most incontinence pads are 80% plastic. They cannot be recycled and need up to 500 years to disintegrate into microplastics that contaminate rivers and oceans. The fragrance and plastic covering contained in pads can also cause skin irritation. Attn: Grace has created a bio-based and skin-safe line of women’s incontinence products. It uses patented technology to create its line of liners, pads, briefs, and wipes using polyethylene made from upcycled sugarcane waste. The company has generated more than $1 million in revenue in the past 12 months and projects reaching nearly $31 million in 2023.
Every new car on the market has a heavy environmental impact. The production of internal combustion engine vehicles emits 9.2 tons of carbon dioxide, while the production of electric vehicles (EVs) emits about 14.6 tons of carbon dioxide. To reduce the pollution of producing new cars while enjoying the comfort and convenience of travelling by car, many carsharing solutions exist. Upshift offers fractional car leasing services to drivers who need cars for short distances and short duration. Users can request cars with as short as 30 minutes’ notice, and they will receive clean cars with full tanks at their doorstep. Upshift also allows users to subscribe to their services and receive cars on designated days regularly.
More than 15.6 million tons of polystyrene are produced in the world each year. The material is cheap but difficult to recycle. As a result, it sits in landfills and pollutes oceans by releasing microplastics and hazardous chemicals. StarchTek is developing an innovative, starch-based solution as an alternative to Styrofoam. The business is in the prototyping stage and uses its sustainable, patented formulations, extrusion process, and proprietary equipment to replace plastics with biomaterials. StarchTek wants to partner with polystyrene manufacturers to help them produce a biodegradable material without petroleum. The current rise of the price of petroleum-based polystyrene is a major opportunity for the startup.
Timeplast – Neutral Deal
Timeplast has developed a techno-organic plastic that completely disintegrates in water within 12 hours. The material has the potential to replace most plastics that are not continuously in contact with water: expanded polystyrene, single-use packages, and many plastic goods. Timeplast’s solution is sustainable, plastic free, and bio-based.
Azure Printed Homes makes 3D-printed homes using recycled materials. It is revolutionizing the construction industry by using recycled polymers and 3D printing to prefabricate modern backyard studios, accessory dwelling units, and homes faster and more affordably. Azure Printed Homes is automating and accelerating production to meet urgent housing demands.
Health & Medicine
AiViva is a biotechnology company that has created proprietary technology and new treatments in the fields of urology, oncology, dermatology, and ophthalmology. AiViva’s JEL technology enhances the benefits of drugs and prolongs their therapeutic effects, thus reducing treatment frequency and improving outcomes. AiViva is conducting four clinical trials focused on age-related macular degeneration, non-melanoma skin cancer, and prostate disorders.
CAREMINDr offers remote patient care and enables patients with ongoing needs to connect with their doctors easily and regularly. Users can make convenient digital house calls to their doctors using just their cell phones and receive care.
Delee has created a device, CytoCatch, for early detection of circulating tumor cells in the bloodstream. The device also assists in personalizing and optimizing the treatment of patients. CytoCatch monitors the effectiveness of treatments and helps to increase patients’ chances of surviving cancer and being cured.
Sober Sidekick brings community support to people who combat addiction alone. The platform encourages behavioral changes by providing decentralized mental health support. It is based on an empathy algorithm and motivates people to help others by providing support, advice, motivation, and positive feedback.
Food and Agriculture
Yerbaé – Neutral Deal
Yerbaé makes plant-based and zero-calorie energy drinks. Yerbaé’s flavored and highly caffeinated beverages are centered around the yerba mate plant. The drinks are meant to help with digestion, boost metabolism, support cardiovascular health, and increase physical endurance.
Steeped Coffee makes specialty coffee that is brewed like tea in a single-serve bag. The bags do not require any machines for brewing and come in compostable and sustainable packaging. Steeped Coffee offers a more environmentally friendly solution than plastic packaging.
Potion Adaptogenic Brews makes superfood beverages using mushrooms and other 100% organic ingredients. The beverages come in a blend of fruit and botanical flavors and are served in eco-friendly glass bottles. They are clean and healthy, delivering a high amount of adaptogens, vitamins, and minerals for consumers.
Kombucha Town brews energizing drinks, including live seltzer and kombucha drinks. The drinks are fair trade certified and made out of organic and non-GMO teas. Kombucha Town plants trees through the One Tree Planted Foundation for every case of drinks bought online.
Flux Hybrids uses its technology to retrofit fleet vehicles into plug-in hybrids. The technology combines the benefits of electrification with the flexibility of gas. The plug-in fleets don’t have to be slowed down by a lack of charging infrastructure.
Joulez is an electric vehicle rental company that is building an ecosystem around supporting EV renters, including a platform and a fleet of premium EVs. The company provides luxurious experiences for customers at an affordable price and advanced customer support and assistance during the car rental process.
FattE-Bikes combines art with transportation to produce eye-catching electric bikes. They are customized and tailored to customers’ personal riding style, including looks, comfort, materials, finishes, and other riding preferences. Electric bikes are more eco-friendly than cars and motorcycles and can help riders travel longer distances than traditional bikes.
Greener Process Systems is an eco-engineering company that has developed a cutting-edge system to reduce port air pollution. The company’s innovative system captures air pollution from oceangoing ships docked in ports, improves air quality, and prevents health complications from harmful pollutants.
Orbis Brakes uses its aerodynamic design and patented technology to make lightweight, high-performance vehicle brakes. The company cuts the raw materials needed to produce breaks in half, decreasing carbon dioxide emissions. It also reduces the harmful emissions breaks release during their use.
WeSolar delivers community solar energy to underrepresented communities. It installs affordable solar technology for homes and businesses, and it assists local commercial properties in achieving energy efficiency.
Roxi Fantasy Gaming created a fantasy golf platform called Majors Challenge, where it hosts online fantasy golf contests and conducts free public contests. Starting in 2022, it will be hosting charity golf pools and donating the event profits to local and national organizations.
Sparo has developed an e-commerce platform that helps retailers attract customers, build brand loyalty, and increase sales. The platform allows shoppers to choose a charitable cause they want the store to donate to. Customers who donate at online checkout tend to buy more and are less likely to abandon their cart, so Sparo’s donations also help increase its profits.
Wall Street has Morningstar, S&P, and Bloomberg
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About: Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau
Léa is passionate about impact investing and sustainability. Prior to KingsCrowd, she worked for Stanford’s accelerator, StartX, helping to select the most promising entrepreneurs. She also led the first award-winning study on the Malawian startup ecosystem. In her free-time, she volunteers to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Brazil and Colombia. Léa holds a degree in Anthropology from France and is currently enrolled in the UC Davis MBA program.