By Rivka Borochov
It doesn’t melt into a million pieces and stay in the ground for the next 70-plus years. And it doesn’t make offensively loud crackling noises when you touch it.
Armed with disdain for the plastics industry, two Israeli entrepreneurs worked hard to establish their new prize-winning packaging company, Tipa
, which creates wrappers as benign as an orange peel.
Tipa CEO and co-founder Daphna Nissenbaum
CEO and co-founder Daphna Nissenbaum is a computer engineer by trade, and a devoted mother who cares so much for the environment that she insisted her kids bring home their drink-box packages after school for recycling. Thinking there should be a way to live the modern and convenient life with throwaways that do not damage the planet, she and business partner Tal Neuman, who is in publishing and graphic design, started brainstorming in 2010.
“The original idea was to create packaging for water and drinks that would decompose when you drop it in the organic compost heap. We started developing certain applications for flexible packaging such as pouches for all kinds of drinks -- packaging that is 100 percent biodegradable, which completely goes back to nature,” Nissenbaum says.
The two women hired Israeli experts in packaging and polymers to help them create a “green” plastic that would also be soft and flexible, transparent, not noisy, and offer a good seal. It had to be biodegradable under certain conditions, which include heat and the presence of a certain kind of bacteria.
Prize-winning sustainable packaging
The original idea focused on drink boxes that Nissenbaum’s kids could take to school, but it gave rise to a whole host of green plastics solutions that can be custom-tailored to the industry. Milk plastics need to be different from yogurt containers, which need to be different from granola bar wrappings or stevia sweetener drops containers. These are just a few applications that Tipa is now working on with strategic partners. Most of the companies interested in investing are outside Israel.
Since launching, Tipa has won a first-place prize at Israel’s Cleantech 2012 out of 50 promising companies; and in Germany, the company won a prize at Anuga Foodtec, a leading food industry packaging conference.
“When I came up with the idea, it came from a need,” says Nissenbaum, who scoured the planet looking for an existing solution that might be bought and applied to her company’s approach. But no such polymer existed.
Now, after working with 10 Israeli and two American consultants, the four-person company based in Ramot Hashavim is looking to go straight to market. A $3 million to $5 million investment will help them finish their R&D and scale up. They have another six strategic partners in the pipeline waiting to cooperate and co-develop their alternative plastics solutions.
No-brainer for the suppliers and consumers
Plastics, even recyclable ones, are a massive burden to the planet. The material fills up landfills, where the plastics seep into the ground, poisoning it with toxins that end up in our drinking water and bodies. Other plastics choke waterways and marine life, or kill birds and mammals as large as camels that mistake them for food.
Despite the obvious need, no really effective green packaging has been developed for the food industry. A couple of years ago, a corn-based wrapper for vegetables was adopted by the company SunChips.
While biodegradable, this product was a public-relations nightmare because it was so noisy when someone reached into the bag for a chip. It would never work with consumers on a large scale.
That’s why Nissenbaum and her partner sought to develop customized packaging solutions that make sense. For instance, if you worry about your drink box melting into the kitchen cupboard before you drink it, don’t fear, says Nissenbaum. In Tipa’s packaging, “Decomposing only starts under certain conditions, in a compost system with heat and bacteria. It needs heat at a certain temperature, with moisture, and bacteria can help,” she says. “It needs a trigger to start decomposing.”
Based on plants and plant derivatives, Tipa is a win-win product for both consumer and supplier. The packaging can be used by an existing packaging factory, with no new machinery upgrades needed, and the customer can continue living in 21st century style - eating and drinking on the go, then tossing the waste in the compost bin.