Would you eat plastic? Whether we want it or not, we ingest about 5 grams of microplastics every week, roughly the same as one credit card, according to WWF.
So what should we do about it? Pressure companies to stop using plastic packaging and start investing in alternatives like the one Sulapac brings.
According to their website, “Sulapac materials biodegrade in nature in the sense that they do not leave permanent microplastics behind. In other words, if leaked to the nature or worn in use, Sulapac materials do not accumulate, and thus, are not capable of collecting harmful chemicals or pathogens that can enrich along the food chain.”
The company has a sincere commitment to being transparent, as seen by the information displayed on their website. They also ensure the science behind their claims is correct, given that they have used independent consultants. The articles in their website read as a scientific paper, attributing more credibility to their statements.
I didn’t give them the full rating because I would like to see more information on what they mean by “certified forests” when talking about where their material comes from. Another thing to consider is that many animals end up eating the trash left by humans, so it would be nice to assess if the consumption of this material would be as bad as if consuming plastic.
The wood they use comes from “industrial side streams from sustainably managed forests”. It is amazing that they are using the by-product of an industry that would otherwise be wasted. One thing that they can improve is to give more details about said forests. They also mention that local materials are preferred whenever possible, which decreases the carbon footprint of their production.
The company requires from suppliers Declarations of Origin and Safety Data Sheets to make sure that they are not using GMOs. One of their products, Sulapac Premium, acquired FSC® certification in August 2020.
Sulapac claims “It biodegrades fully without leaving permanent microplastics behind.” According to their website, their products achieve 54–68 % biodegradation into CO2, water and biomass in 364 days in the marine environment, which is considered to be the most difficult environment for biodegradation. The company has used an existing test (ASTM D6691) to assure the credibility of their claims. If not processed in an industrial composter, their packaging lasts 1-5 years in the environment. It is a huge improvement from the 500 years life of normal plastics, but given the rapid rate that packaging is consumed, I would like to see a faster decomposition.
The company does not own any production facilities, so they partner with existing production plants. They claim their partners cannot use child labor, must allow workers to form or join unions and “must comply with all applicable laws and respect internationally recognized human rights”. Sulapac assesses all raw material suppliers and raw materials according to their Supplier and Raw Material Approval Process, which is specified in their Quality Management System ISO 9001. Given that this certification is awarded by a third party, there is a good chance that they are doing what they say they are.
Finally, Sulapac does not produce the packaging, they sell the material to be shaped by other companies. Plastic manufacturers can use their existing machines, making the whole process much easier and producers more likely to adopt this new technology, since no extra investment needs to be made.
Suvi Haimi and Laura Tirkkonen-Rajasalo are biochemists who specialized in biomaterials and wanted to “save our planet from plastic waste”. They founded SULAPAC in 2016 in Finland.
According to their website “Sulapac is backed by Lifeline Ventures, Business Finland, EU Horizon 2020 -program, large strategic investors as well as well-known Finnish private investors.” The list of investors and partners includes Chanel, who hasn’t yet changed all their packaging to Sulapac materials and doesn’t display any information about Sulapac in their website.
Sulapac also produces straws that do not melt like paper ones and can still be biodegraded as a result of a partnership with Stora Enso, a manufacturer of pulp, paper and other forest products, also headquartered in Helsinki.
Even though there are not solid standards for biomaterials, Sulapac still wants to have a strong scientific base for its products. Thus, they use “accredited, third-party test laboratories for verifying that the criteria are met and apply for the established international certificates when such are available.”
Furthermore, they are developing a takeback program in an effort to join a circular economy, since the recycling infrastructure varies by country in terms of what they can process. The materials they receive back are turned into pet urns in partnership with Vida, Karhumuovi and Ruohonjuuri.
The company received the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Certification, the ISO 9001:2015 certification and is working to get a USDA bio-based certification. ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization that creates international standards that “provide solutions to global challenges”.