Packaging can help to maintain the freshness and extend the shelf-life of our food, thereby reducing waste. But manufacturing food packaging can cause emissions; while the materials used can contribute to pollution in the form of litter and microplastics.
Estonia’s Decomer Technology — which recently joined the AgFunder- and GROW-backed GROW Impact Accelerator — is aiming to solve both problems with its all-natural, food-grade packaging produced from plant-derived polysaccharides, among other things.
AFN sat down with co-founder and CEO Mart Salumäe (MS) to find out more…
AFN: What problem is Decomer trying to solve, and how does your technology offer a solution?
MS: Decomer Technology is developing water-soluble packaging materials that are plant-based and edible and truly combine convenience and eco-friendliness.
Consumers today want more and more convenience, which makes people’s lives easier; but we all know that our convenience causes huge environmental and health issues, from climate change and waste to microplastics [pollution]. Packaging plays a huge part of this and although changing people’s consumption behavior is important, this alone is not enough. The world needs new packaging solutions. Our novel water-soluble and plant-based materials can be used in industries like home and personal care, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and so on. But our primary focus is on the food industry.
AFN: What gives Decomer its competitive edge and differentiates it from others trying to solve the same problem?
MS: There are already some water-soluble materials out there, but they are mostly [made from] petroleum, animal-based ingredients, or unscalable plant-based feedstock which makes them either unsustainable or expensive to produce. By far the most widespread material is petroleum-based polyvinyl alcohol which is used to produce water-soluble detergent pods. On the other hand, we use a plant-based blend of mostly polysaccharides that are not just safe but are part of people’s everyday diet; meaning that, in our case, the packaging truly can be a part of your food.
AFN: What would you say has been the single biggest challenge – and the single biggest success – for Decomer so far?
MS: As in our case we are not just making minor changes to existing packaging materials, but we need to modify many elements from composition to production and packaging, then working on all these topics has definitely been a difficult journey. But this journey has given us a lot of very specific knowhow that is now difficult for others to replicate.
Our biggest success is probably the fact that we are working on partnerships with many of the world’s largest CPG corporations through whom we will be able to truly make a difference and have a large-scale impact. Also, it was an honor for me and my co-founder [Kelly Kangur] to be nominated in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
AFN: What does ‘impact’ mean to you personally, and to Decomer as a business? Why is environmental and social impact so important?
MS: My background is in materials science, and before my studies I already knew that I wanted to develop something that can truly change the world – and then turn that idea into a business. And from studying biopolymers, it was a logical personal step to move on to create Decomer Technology [to] change the packaging industry. Therefore Decomer for me is not just a company, but a company with a mission.
But as the paradigm is shifting towards a better and more sustainable future then, even for other companies that are not currently passionate about sustainability, it is important to evaluate the positive and negative impact that they are creating. Soon this will not just be a matter of societal image but will be vital in terms of regulation, partnerships, competitiveness, and funding.