Packaging as benign as an orange peel.
Imagine pulling back the tab of a drink box, drinking its contents, and then throwing what’s left in the backyard compost heap to fully decompose –– just like one would a fruit peel? This was the dream of mother and computer-engineer-turned-entrepreneur Daphna Nissenbaum from Israel.
Her dream has turned into an award-winning green packaging company, Tipa, which won a first-place prize at Israel’s Cleantech 2012 out of 50 promising companies and also won a prize at Anuga Foodtec, a leading food industry packaging conference in Germany.
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Tipa is starting to roll out a few products already, and eventually may change the way we consume and dispose of products we use every single day.
The idea for Tipa started with a big pet peeve. Nissenbaum is a doting mother who also cares for the planet. Worn out after years of nagging the kids to bring home their used food packaging and cans so she could recycle them, Nissenbaum hired expert consultants in biopolymers to search the world for a fully compostable packaging material. They found nothing to fit the bill.
She tells ISRAEL21c, “Actually the company really just started with a simple idea of creating a package that is as close to nature as possible. This is a package from which you can drink or eat the inside contents, then throw the package into the organic waste stream to fully decompose –– to go back to nature in the compost bin.”
Flexible and quiet
The material had to be made to decompose under certain conditions — with the right heat and bacteria, for instance — and not in the kitchen cupboard. But Nissenbaum had an additional list of requisites that would help fulfill her goal of making a packaging solution that could outperform others.
Familiar with the SunChips green packaging that flopped because it was too noisy, Nissenbaum didn’t want to make the same mistake.
“The packaging we’d create would have to have a nice touch, yet be flexible enough not to break. It couldn’t be noisy. It would have to be transparent, yet be equipped with certain barriers, like against oxygen and water. Plus it would need to be sealed well,” she says.
“If we take all these characteristics that need to be used in packaging for any kind of soft food or drink it would really be the most difficult package to make. And it would need to be able to hold food with a six-month shelf life, at least.”
Because Nissenbaum couldn’t find this green wonder material on the shelf of any chemist’s lab she approached, she decided to take on the challenge. Nissenbaum and her partner Tal Neuman, a designer, started fundraising and hired their own Israeli and US experts to make Tipa’s patentable packaging solution. The company was officially founded in 2010.
Made from plants
And then it happened: “The breakthrough was in creating a flexible film for food packaging,” she says. “There are biodegradable films out there but they can’t be used for food packaging. We created the first-generation and then second-generation packaging from new and different green materials that can be used for all kinds of food packaging.
She started with 100 percent biodegradable drink pouches and then quickly moved to other packaging ideas: granola bar wrappers, yogurt containers and small plastic packages for liquefied natural sweeteners such as stevia.
“One important thing to note is that during our R&D up to now, all our packaging has been tested on existing machinery in working factories. Any customer that will adopt our solution will not have to buy any new machinery,” Nissembaum explains.
Plastics packaging is the bane of environmentalists. Taking hundreds of years if at all to degrade, plastic wrappers and plastic-lined juice boxes clog landfill sites, choke wildlife and eventually leach dangerous chemicals into groundwater. Cities including San Francisco, Toronto and Mexico City have gone so far as to ban plastic bags, and savvy consumers are seeking better alternatives.
That has made for a marketing environment ripe for Tipa’s packaging solution, which will go on sale shortly. Based on plant and plant derivatives, the material is also hip and easy on the eyes. Nissenbaum is seeking a $3 million to $5 million investment to refine research and development and to kickstart additional strategic partnerships.