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☁️ "The Regenerative Alternative to Plastic"

Who's Saving The Planet?

Photo by Emily Bernal / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Lex Kiefhaber
Guest: Mark Herrema | CEO | Newlight Technologies
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction | Plastic Alternative

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[3:45] “We figured out that there are micro organisms in the ocean that eat greenhouse gas as a food source. […] And in the process of doing that they build a material inside of their cells and the technical name for this material is PHB. […] The human body makes PHB, plants, animals, almost everything alive makes PHB. This is really an interesting material, you can think of it like an energy storage material. And all that means is if you extract it, you can melt it […], [which] means you can use it as a replacement for plastic. But because it's made throughout the oceans, throughout life, life understands it. So if it ever ends up in the environment, the environment sees it as a food source, kind of like a banana peel.”

[4:50] “All of a sudden you have this really interesting thing that happens in nature, where nature is eating greenhouse gas and turning it into a replacement for plastic, but a replacement that doesn't last forever. And at the same time, in the same way that when a leaf grows, you're reducing the amount of carbon in the air. When nature takes greenhouse gas, and turns it into this, this material, that's also a net carbon negative process.”

[5:17] “We […] came across this idea about 18 years ago, and were enamored by the concept of not only the product in the sense that you could replace plastic with something that would go away by virtue of being naturally occurring, and two would have a net carbon negative footprint. But we also realized that the only way that that could have an impact was if we could use it to make products that people actually liked. In other words, they had great performance and a good price profile. So what we've spent the past 18 years doing is figuring out how to copy nature, and take greenhouse gas, combine it with air, feed it to these naturally occurring microorganisms from the ocean, and get them to make this material that we can use to replace plastic. We call it AirCarbon. And we think this is a whole new platform in terms of materials production […] from a systemic perspective.”

[7:24] “It's definitely easy to demonize plastic. And we're, in many ways, an anti plastic company. But it's also important to realize that plastic has done a lot of good. It's down-weighted products that would otherwise be made from wood or metal or glass. It's improved things like hygiene, shipping costs. So it's been a big part of economic growth. But […] it's almost too good. It lasts forever. It's not naturally occurring, so it ends up in the environment and doesn't go away. And it results in carbon emissions when we make it. So it's […] something that society has done and now we need to intelligently get away from it, and move to a different model.”

[11:38] “We are talking about taxing carbon or burying it underground, but nature uses greenhouse gas as the building block of almost everything that we see. Your wooden table was built by pulling carbon and greenhouse gas out of the air and synthesizing it into a useful product. What if we could do the same thing, or at least something similar? […] What if we could come up with a consumer driven pathway to environmental remediation? Imagine if someday you could go into a restaurant and use a fork and just the act of using that fork, displace plastic and reduce the amount of carbon in the air. And earlier this year, when I walked into Shake Shack, and they had AirCarbon straws and cutlery for the first time, it was a pretty moving moment for me.”

[19:48] “When you have an electric vehicle, you can just see you're not filling up gas. Whereas with one of our wallets, or one of our pairs of eyewear, or forks, the beauty of what we do is this stuff works really well and thus, you might not notice the difference. […] So then it becomes basically product labeling and and how do you message to people to enable them to understand both what it is and its impact. So we're looking at a bunch of things. We're looking at branding things right now that we think will be helpful just to communicate that this is a different material. And our fashion products […] come with a unique blockchain number. […] If you get one of our wallets or eyewear as an example, you take that number, and you plug it into our website. And it'll show you every step in the production process, when the gas was fed to the microorganisms, when it was turned into a powder or pellets, and so forth. And then the specific carbon footprint associated with the product, as well as who independently as a third party calculated that and certified that.”

[21:48] “I think in time, it's going to be a lot of education, a lot of good branding. I personally think that branding and messaging is one of the things that's more missing in the environmental space.

[34:47] “Plastics pollution […] feels almost impossibly big. We're [putting] 20 billion pounds of plastic into the ocean every single year. So our next big point in time is we want to get up to 20 billion pounds per year of plastic [alternative] production. Now relative to the size of the industry, which will be at a trillion pounds per year soon, that's actually not a massive amount. In other words, it is doable. We can replace synthetic plastics that never go away with naturally occurring materials. We want to show in the next five to seven years that we can launch over 90% of prototypes that are currently ending up in the ocean, replace that plastic with AirCarbon and show that look, it's not going to be easy, it's not going to happen overnight. But this is possible. We can do this.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 43 min | 🗓️ 03/29/2022
✅ Time saved: 41 min

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