every year, people In the UK, people throw away around 96 billion pieces of plastic packaging – an average of 66 per household per week. According to a May 2022 survey by Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace, almost half of all packaging waste ends up incinerated and a quarter is buried in landfills. The scale of the waste is incalculable.
“The plastic crisis can be daunting,” says Insiya Jafferjee, CEO and co-founder of packaging company Shellworks. Speaking at WIRED Impact in London in November, Jafferjee said that even seemingly simple small plastic items, such as the spoon in a baby formula package, generate hundreds of millions of pieces of plastic waste every year. Shellworks was created to start reducing the amount of plastic packaging that gets thrown away. To that end, Jafferjee and co-founder Amir Afshar have developed a fully compostable material that can be used to package goods.
The company’s material, called Vivomer, is made from microbes found in soil and marine environments and can be made into solid jars or containers, and more flexible droppers that release liquids. “The catch here, or the benefit of doing that, is that if you throw this jar away, the same microbes in the soil and in the marine environment will see it, essentially recognize it as food, and break it down,” Jafferjee said.
The packaging does not require any special circumstances to degrade: it can be composted at home or recycled industrially. Jafferjee said that if the Vivomer product is thrown away with regular trash, it will still degrade and not create any microplastics in the process. Depending on the size of the package, it can take anywhere from a year to five years to degrade.
Jafferjee told WIRED Impact that since Shellworks launched in 2019, it has faced multiple challenges. When creating the proof of concept, the team worked in a shed and had to use freely available machines. Then, on the eve of the first major delivery, an electrical fire decimated the company’s inventory. Since then, it has learned to outsource manufacturing and start mass-producing products.
Jafferjee said the company’s most significant order to date was the repackaging of beauty brand Haeckels’ skin care products. In total, it produced more than 300,000 Vivomer products for 100,000 products, designed to accommodate everything from creams and serums to oils and exfoliating powders. “We’re trying to scale it up,” Jafferjee said. To solve the plastic crisis, scale is needed.