5:10AM Dec 15, 2020
Credit deserves to go to the BPI, Bio-Products Institute who has the main compostability standard; BPI certified, because they updated their standards as of; it happened last year, but it went into effect as of January 1st, 2020. You can't receive BPI compostability for certification if you have PFAS in your products, detection limits and other stuff. But I would say that's probably the biggest catalyst to getting folks out of PFAS and molded fiber.
Okay. So yeah, that seems to have driven these companies; few companies to make some pledges or; to already start to begin that now. Maybe you can point me towards more or we can talk about them, but I came across Footprint, the Freshii chain, seems that they're phasing out PFAS, Cava, and I found these other companies, Repurpose and Eco-Products, who both seem to be touting PFAS-free molded fiber bowls. And one of the questions I have is; I reached out to those companies. So far, it's only been a little over a week, but I haven't heard from any of them yet, and I don't know if I will, but I'm hoping to learn, what are they using instead?
Yeah, and full disclosure, we are an investor in Repurpose. So we've worked very closely with them on that PFAS issue. But just for the sake of your article, so you know upfront, Safer Made has invested in Repurpose, partially because we worked with Lauren McPhee, the CEO over the last few years, to address just this. Part of the reason why I've seen what does and doesn't work, and what the limitations are and are not, is because of our relationship with them; and they aren't the only ones by any means. It's also a tricky area because molded fiber is a particular subset of fiber. Your paper products are different and don't have to have PFAS, although paper cups usually have plastic liners, or those like craft pulp-looking boxes sold, rather than; are molded. Those are all basically laminants as well. So paper processing, there's a couple of technologies and ways to avoid PFAS. You have multiple options with various end-of-life kind of performance. In molded fiber, you have fewer options, and that's where some of the challenges come. So I always try to make a distinction between things that start out; it really comes down to manufacturing; so things that started out as flat sheets. Which cups start out as flat sheet; and so do those kind of fold into go boxes. Those have different economics and there's different constraints on how they can be made to perform. But they have more PFAS-free options, not all of which are compostable because a lot of them rely on polymer films. Then in molded fiber, you have some general ways, and this is also true for paper; you can use more heat and pressure. Basically, if you want to make something more water-resistant and more oil-resistant, the less porosity you have, so the fewer pores you have so liquid or oil could get in, the better off you are. Basically, it gives you a better starting point, and that takes changing your manufacturing, takes changing some other things. So that's one piece of the puzzle. And then the other piece of the puzzle is what PFAS did which is that they would put it into the wet pulp. And so if it goes into the wet pulp, it's very inexpensive to add from a manufacturing standpoint, and it gets all over the fibers. But there aren't a lot of wet pulp additives. There are now some from a variety of chemical suppliers that you can add. You don't get the performance of PFAS, so the performance is not quite as good, especially when it comes to oil. But you can get a decent; there's some additives that now exist, and that wasn't the case of few years ago. A few years ago, there was really nothing to add there. And the other thing you can do that most people have tried to avoid, but I've seen out there, is you can also take a molded fiber product; you can basically make your mold or your cup or your plate, and then afterwards spray a coating onto it. And there are a number of different spray coatings, and some of those have been around for even a little bit longer that do give you pretty decent performance. But it's hard to do when, say, deeper [drawables?]. It's also hard to give you encoding and it adds a significant expense to the manufacturing process. This has always been an issue; of chemistry that performs well enough at a cost point; it's not that the chemistry is expensive; but at the main manufacturing costpoint to still make sense.
Okay, yeah, I definitely; in looking at some of the plant-based alternatives, the different sort of fiber products, I've seen that the first thing you mentioned, that kind of heat-pressing seems to be emphasized by some of the manufacturers, even if they don't necessarily disclose; what else might be involved chemically; but seems that that's effective. And as you said, that maybe a popular approach to try to develop some safer materials is a key part of the process. So my question would be, and I don't know if you have any insight into this; but what then do we know about these other additives that could be going into the wet pulp? If they're proprietary or newer?
Yeah. One of the things that we ran into at Repurpose, and you do need to do third-party testing to guarantee that the claims are true, is you have; you and I probably both are on the same page that perfluorinated substances includes all perfluorinated substances, and that's what we want out of these things. Sometimes you will find folks, suppliers saying, oh, it's PFAS-free, but what they really mean is it's there's no [PFOA or PFOS?]; so the particular eight carbon chains that have been banned. We saw this in textiles too; you have to make sure that there's actually no fluorine in any of the additives as we were testing a bunch of different ones. We sent it out for third party testing, and some actually came back positive for fluorine. So those were the ones we didn't go ahead with, but if it's a brand making a claim, hopefully they are getting at least some third-party testing done, because the chemistry companies won't always disclose all of the ingredients. So there needs to be a 'no fluorine' or a 'low residual fluorine', and basically the same sort of threshold that BPI would use. And that's how any of these companies can rationalize it saying, hey, we have to pass this compostability test, you have to certify that it's use-level, that it's not gonna [pit?] and they're gonna do some third-party testing to verify it.
So that's one piece of the question. So you do have to make sure that there's not, they're not sneaking any fluorine in under both short chain, PFAS that it is. And hopefully, none of the brands like Eco-Pro or some of these other big ones are doing. To my knowledge, I haven't tested all of them, so I can't tell you, but the level of awareness because of BPI is now high enough that I think you shouldn't find that in a large, reputable brand.
I was just gonna say, I mean, isn't there a testing requirement for the BPI certification that would weed that outright? It's not just reported, it's tested to be certified?
Exactly, that's correct. If it's BPI certified, you can have a high degree of confidence that whatever the additives are, they don't contain PFAS, which is great. That was not the case until this year.
So then that leaves you with the kind of; what else can be used there. And this is where I'm going to talk more generally rather than specifically, but there's a whole degree of both what strength and dry strength additives available from the traditional kind of paper-making chemistry world. Solenis has a bunch, Ashby has a bunch; a couple of other companies. Their range of chemistries that get added to pulp and paper to help you with fiber lengths and sticking together; and some of them are based on basically modified starches, some of them were based on polyamines, so nitrogen-containing compounds do a great job of binding through hydrogen-bonding forces. You have some stuff that I don't like as much, but you do occasionally find stuff that relies on polyethylene oxide, or kind of precursors to that, the epichlorohydrin binders. They're not really going to be a concern in the final product, but they're much more reactive; a little bit more harmful chemistry, but you do see those at the core hydrogen, epichlorohydrin additive occasionally. Those are kind of three of the most common classes of things you can add to the pulp to make it stronger, as well as balancing out some of this heat and pressure. Because the higher you heat it, and the more pressure it's under, the more energy and time it takes to make your plates. So basically, what we do always, we trade types of energy like; your chemical inputs basically decrease in need for physical energy, and we use cleaners in our homes right, where basically, you can scrub off all the dirt, or you can use chemicals to help you make it easier to scrub off all the dirt. Well the relative balance of that depends on your opinion of the safety of the chemicals and your willingness to put in elbow grease, right? An analogy in this world is like how much heat and pressure you want to invest versus how much of what sorts of chemistry. Basically, all the companies who are making the claims and going through BPI certification are doing some balance of that. Maybe they accept a little less performance; maybe they add a little more heat or just more pulp in general; maybe they go to a higher quality fiber, so higher fiber links; maybe they use some of these chemical additives, starches or otherwise. And in the end, it's all relatively similar and relatively safe compared to PFAS so it really is a step in the right direction, but none of it is as cheap or as fast as PFAS. That's the other reality.
Yeah, it seems to echo BPA in some ways because that's just kind of this magical chemical that does so much so well from one perspective, and it's so hard to find replacement like plugin replacements for it that perform and are cheap and that's why I think a lot of people would just jump to its relatives; other bisphenols. Yeah, I mean, obviously, in this case, when you're doing the total flooring, it's not quite the same; jumping just to the neighboring chemical, but as far as having that magic bullet that performs so well and is easy to use; from the manufacturing standpoint, there seems to be some parallel there.
Yeah, and I think it makes sense too. It's because these systems were designed around each other too. It's why the promise of dropping chemistry is never really a reality; if you have a process that's optimized for a particular chemistry, the idea that you could find another chemistry in there that isn't also going to be problematic from a health standpoint... If it's so close-knitted, it can be dropped in there, it's also going to have problems. So it almost always requires rethinking the system a little bit. Something that we recognize and try to help people understand it; say for me, like it's best to think about; if you have a problem with hazardous chemicals, think about it, not as having you replace the hazardous chemical, but what function to that hazardous chemical play, and what are the other ways we can fill that function or the other ways we can change manufacturing? What are the other ways that we can rethink the system and hopefully still provide value; rather than focusing on let's find a chemist to consult the problem. But I do think that's the good part. This is not like BPA and that we're not using the other perfluorinated substances. We did for about; this is now the whole industry, but like the industry did for about two or three years; basically, they switched from a carbon to six carbon perfluorinated substances. But that's better than the ten years that the apparel industry did it, right? So it's actually a fairly good story and I give BPI a lot of credit here.
Yeah, okay. So beyond PFAS, are you as active in other; or beyond the multfiber and PFAS issue; what sort of involvement you have in other types of disposable food packaging, whether bioplastics or some of these; I'm curious about the potential, maybe down the line a bit, of this newer class of more clearly plant-based products, whether it's straws or cutlery or plates, like the pressed palm leaves into little trays or plates. Or, you know, the some things perhaps made from hemp, and these kinds of more plant-forward; obviously, they probably have chemicals in some cases, but otherwise, they look quite different from paper and plastic and come from different feedstocks. I'm curious about the feasibility of those, maybe from the investment perspective, as far as the market or market acceptability.
Yeah, a couple words of the chemistry first, then maybe some of the things we get excited about investments; could be little bit careful with the things that are not the whole plant. They look good, you know, the bamboo ones, the palm leave ones, they have a beautiful product. That chemistry ends up being more like your particle board chemistry, so you really need; there is a binder; so the binder chemistries is what you have to be concerned about and the typical thing that is used, unless they're really doing something different, is formaldehyde urea resins, which are not the friendliest thing in the world. And they also have issues on the compostability side. They look beautiful, but they're actually not going to meet that kind of 60-day, 90-day standard, much less the 45-days your typical industrial composter would like to see. [XXX] products generally tend to be more expensive and the chemistry isn't always better. And I'd have to take a look at specific ones. I don't know which exact ones are referring to, but the ones that are more sturdy, feel more; those are often, they're more like traditional wood chemistry. So it's an interesting thing, because the consumer thinks they're more natural because it's easier to see the product, but how that product is held together? It's not always a simple story. So that's just a note on chemistry there.
Is there a way that one could make guesses based on any attributes of the item, as to whether it's more or less likely to contain some of those potentially more harmful chemicals? Or you said, the sturdier ones perhaps? If it's something that breaks down really quickly, do they have some certification for the biodegradability; you know, it breaks down really quickly or it doesn't need to be in a commercial composting facility, maybe would something like that be more likely to be safe?
Yeah, it's actually something. I'm going to bring up the standards. That's something that I think we need. Our next step forward could come from like BPI changing their standard. I think we need a better set of standards for compostability and biodegradability, and I do tend to agree that if it's something that is going to meet a backyard compostability standard, which I think is going to be a much higher bar, and currently not a very well-defined bar compared to an industrial composter. For one, we need to kind of have that series of things. So you have, say a 90-day industrial composter standard, which hopefully overtime is going to become a 45-day industrial compostability standard, and then above that, you have your 90- or 108-backyard compostability standard. And then maybe above that, you have a 90- or 180-day environmental biodegradability standard that either gets defined in the marine environment, or in the aquatic environment, or in the terrestrial environment. But that would be even a step above your backyard compost. Heat and water are always going to help break these things down. Right now, we don't have that kind of clear delineation. We have "biodegradability claims" which are very poorly regulated and defined, so we try to avoid them. We have semi-defined backyard compostability claims but I think we need a BPI or something similar to really formalize that backyard compostability. It's not formally regulated in my opinion at this point, or even standardized. And then we have the commercial composter which is fairly well-defined. It's just that not everyone has access to commercial compost. So there's an infrastructure issue there. And then you have bio-waste, which tells you where the material is coming from, but tells you nothing about the end-of-life. So some of the materials that I've seen that may be different than the ones you've seen make bio-based claims, but don't make end-of-life claims. The consumer gets confused by not only the range of end-of-life options, but they even get confused between bio-based, meaning something about end-of-life, which it doesn't.
Yes, so would it follow that those that could break down more easily or even in the environment would likely have less chemicals holding them together and therefore be actually more safe.
That is the general rule, and I will point out the exceptions, like PFAS which was in there at a fairly small percent right, so to why BPI had to make a separate rule on PFAS, because it was only in there at, say, two or three per cen; and you're traditional standards of looking at what happens to, say, 80% of the material. So if you have a 20% binder that sticks around forever, that might not be made out of great chemistry, and you can still meet certain standards. That's why these standards become so important. I agree with the general rule that chemistry that breaks down relatively quick in the environment tends to do less long-lasting harm. But that's not universally true. A great example are actually, phthalates; you mentioned BPA earlier; BPA to a certain extent, but definitely phthalates, they break down relatively quickly, like they hydrolyze. But we use them in so many different things, that we basically have a continuous background exposure as if they were persistent. Some epidemiologist and others refer to it as pseudo-persistence, because it's persisting in the environment; because there's more and more coming in every day, not because it actually lasts a long time. But as a chemist, designing the degrade is kind of the first step in helping guarantee that it's going to be a safer chemistry. So yes, I like the things that break down faster, they generally are made with safer chemistry, as long as you're not using some small percentage of persistent or potentially toxic things to hold it all together to get you performance. A lot of times, there are the environmental concerns, which are dictated by what materials we're using, and their end-of-life. And that's about bio-based composting; biodegradable. Then there are performance concerns, which are really usually where our toxic chemistry is hiding. So the water and oil resistance with PFAS, or the adhesion with BPA, or the plasticizing, and formulation work that the phthalates do in fragrances, it tends to be the performance chemistry, which is usually smaller amounts, say less than 5%, that derives the human health concerns. And people again, often combine the environmental concerns with the human health concerns. And they're actually different; they're tied to different pieces of this puzzle.
Yeah, okay got it. I think you were gonna say one other thing about these more extensively plant-based products, although I can't remember where that was.
Oh, about trends that I do get excited about which sort of feature bio-based products. So, do you think the consumers will be looking for things that feel more natural; and paper generally works for the consumer. So I think there's a real opportunity in some interesting new chemistries to provide; basically, better barrier layers make paper- and fiber-based products more performant, like plastics. So crystallin nanocellulose is one of the additives that people are getting excited about. That's one example. There are other examples of ways to make paper have some of the oxygen and moisture barriers that typically we associate with plastic. But how can we get rid of, say pouches and films, using fiber-based products or fiber-based products in conjunction with some of the more degradable polymers like your PHAs? I think that's a really exciting area of research where you can bring the best of the polymer science world that is bio-based polymers rather than the petroleum-based polymers along with the consumer appeal and degradation; and really life-cycle performance of fiber. Plastic can't be recycled at all but paper gets recycled very much; back off my claim; doesn't get recycled as much as we'd like. Fiber and cardboard and paper actually do and so it gets down to like, oh it doesn't last in the system, but it's a renewable resource that actually does have a few passes through the system. So I get excited about new paper chemistries, new polymer paper blends, that can give you compostability and hopefully even some of these other biodegradability standards, without harmful chemistry, and with a message that is easy to understand as a consumer. It's a lot harder when it looks like plastic; explaining this is plastic, but not plastic.
But wouldn't these polymer-based barriers, also potentially have some plastic added, some additives, in there? Just in terms of holding that; if it's there, do you mean like, like PLA linings are more advanced, or newer things than that. But would there be some additives in there?
Yeah, like the next generation PLA-like chemistries, which are the PBS and PHAs and PHBVs, they're all actually variants from the same underlying polyester chemistry, when you dig down to it. And also starch, there's a bunch of variants based on starch or cellulose. [XXX] cellulose is nothing but a fancy way of saying alpha cellulose particles that can be isolated. So you basically have two different ways of the chemistry advancing; one even more degradable polyesters, and yes there's going to be some blends of, say PLA with PHAs, or PVS, or some of the others, and there are going to be blends on the starch side as well, and sometimes they'll blend the two together. And it is important to me that we look at any of the additives that are great, if you add a bunch of PFAs to make it work, it doesn't work for us, right? You do have to be concerned about small molecule additives, but in general, these two classes of naturally occurring and bio-based polymers, both the polyesters as well as the starches. There's some advances in the chemistry which I think are really exciting; that can get us to more performant, fiber-based, product.
Yeah, and the reason you stress recyclability is that, as you said, you can get more use out of that material, simply because that's a higher use than composting, although that's better than landfilling. So you're referring to that kind of hierarchy?
Well, whether you want to argue about the hierarchy or not, it makes it so that if you're in a place that doesn't have composting, here's another option, right? Like it gives you multiple non-landfill, end-of-life standpoints.
Okay, interesting. Well, I will keep an eye out. I've been looking at all sorts of different products I could find. I have seen some of those. If you have any specific examples of anything along those lines; you were just discussing that you're able to share that you're involved with, or whatever, I'd be curious. Just provide an example.
Yeah, none of them are out on the market yet. These are the kind of chemical companies or early stage technology companies that we're talking to that... Hopefully it's one of the reasons why we invest in Repurpose. Repurpose can test some of this stuff out. Safer Made invest both in brands like Repurpose; Repurpose doesn't have the technology, they're a brand. And we also invest in new ingredients, suppliers, and just technology companies. We've done that a couple of times, both P2 Science and Mother's Choice are examples in personal care products. So they don't relate to what we're talking about here. But we invest in both types of companies as long as they're bringing safer chemistry.
Well, thank you so much, I'll let you go. I really appreciate the time, all this time this morning and squeezing it in. It's very helpful and I'll make sure to pass this along. Should be out next month. And in the meantime, if I have any questions on any of this, I might shoot you a quick email if that's all right. But that looks good, really helpful, I appreciate it.
Excellent. Thanks for taking the time and reaching out Nate.
Yeah. Take care. Enjoy the rest of your day. I'll be in touch
You too, bye bye.
Take care, bye bye