At Flying Saucer, our mission is to work with businesses who are searching for creative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. We recently attended Web Summit with the goal of interacting with more impact brands, and while we met numerous incredible, passionate teams, we did a roundup of the absolute 10 coolest startups we met while there. This article is part of a series showcasing these individual startups and what they’re doing to positively impact the world - be sure to check out the others and subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news on everything impact!
Every day 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into our oceans and waterways, polluting the Earth’s ecosystem. This causes enormous damage to animals and humans alike, as eventually, part of this plastic will end up in food.
If you live on planet Earth then chances are that you know that plastic and other pollutants are harmful to the environment and all of us humans who live in it. However, you might not understand just how bad.
More than one million species are at risk of extinction due to climate change, which could be completely irreversible by 2030. That’s a decade, folks. These kinds of statistics are astounding, and deciding to make a change on a global scale is not just an ethical issue, it’s a question of survival. That’s why we’re so taken with Qwarzo, a company that aims to replace an important part of these plastics with a natural, biodegradable, and economic material. At their core, their goal is to replace plastic.
Wait – if a compound that could replace plastic exists, why aren’t we using it!? That was our exact reaction when we discovered Qwarzo. Let’s take a look.
Changing the Very Fabric of the Packaging Industry
Imagine this: plastic covers the world from the Arctic to Antarctica. It clogs street drains in our cities, it covers national parks, and you can even find it all the way up on Mount Everest. It’s literally everywhere, and it’s suffocating the planet. No, that’s not the plot to a futuristic movie set in the all too distant future – that’s what present-day 2020 looks like. It’s enough to keep us up at night.
But if it were the plot to an apocalyptic film, then Qwarzo would be the hero, the protagonist that comes to save the world from self-destruction.
Qwarzo’s cutting-edge technology covers paper products with a thin layer of something they call, yep, you guessed it, Qwarzo! Basically, Qwarzo is like liquid glass – it’s sand, that turns into glass on contact with the paper. It’s a food-grade material that can coat paper products, making them 100%, well, everything! Biodegradable, recyclable, greaseproof, and compostable. It’s so thin – less than 2 microns or two thousandths of a millimeter – that your product can still be flexible, if necessary.
“600 billion cups per year are manufactured out of paper, and then applied with a thin layer of plastic to the interior of the cup to keep it liquid safe. But that also renders them non-recyclable. If companies would switch to using Qwarzo, the cups would be completely compostable and fully recyclable because Qwarzo basically becomes… dust.”
That’s right – your average coffee cup from any of your go-to places for your favourite hot bevvy, are basically a plastic cup, with a paper veneer. They trick the consumer into thinking that they’re made out of paper, but that paper is really just for marketing, or structural purposes. Therefore, when you try to recycle that puppy, it doesn’t work. You can’t recycle the paper because it’s adhered to the plastic, and you can’t recycle the plastic because it’s covered in paper. Everyone loses. Not to mention that it’s not just plastic inside that cup – if the cup is compostable, it’s Teflon inside the paper pulp!
They’re going to completely ban this material in Europe by 2023 as it’s been shown to be carcinogenic. And, while governments are at least getting the ball rolling on that, the question still remains - what are we going to replace it with? They don’t actually have an answer right now, but we do:
With Qwarzo, you eliminate a hazardous material that can have major health effects, and you save the planet while you’re at it. How? Let’s say you’re that person (please don’t be that person) who throws their cup into the ocean, or somewhere where it might end up in the water. That cup will disappear completely in six weeks.
Six. Weeks. Enough said.
Honestly, we couldn’t see any drawbacks, and you better believe we nitpicked, poked and prodded to find any.
“Qwarzo can adhere chemically to almost any material. So, you can place it on a paper cup and make it completely food-grade and waterproof,” noted Manuel Milliery, CEO of Qwarzo. “So imagine, all the disposable plastic around, we can make it with the same properties, but use 100% paper.”
Don’t We Need to Think About Conserving Paper?
Yes, absolutely! We need to be conserving our use of just about everything. But paper is actually a pretty sustainable industry! And, more importantly, paper is not responsible for 80% of the world's marine pollution – that’s all plastic. In fact, one CNBC report released last year stated that, yes, paper straws are better for the environment. But, they might be ten times more costly to produce. Yikes. That doesn’t sound like a cost-effective solution to us. Also, have you used a paper straw? Hats off to the person who can finish their iced tea before that thing is a mushy mess.
So, Qwarzo is attacking the biggest problem at hand. They’re single-handedly searching for and providing solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. #ImpactBrand for sure.
Are you wondering what the hell an #ImpactBrand is? Check our article, “What Are Impact Brands and Why Are We Obsessed With Them?”, where we break it all down and explain what’s got us so fired up about the rise of Impact Brands across the industry spectrum.
What’s the main barrier to using it?
There’s more to this story than just switching over to a new product. That’s why brands have begun to look at what they’re going to do when consumers start saving their hard earned dollars for companies that are advocating for change related to the environment. Qwarzo’s creator, Luca Panzeri, basically predicted this issue back when he started working on the research and prototype in the 90s.
This issue involves a lot of moving parts, as you can imagine. Large corporations are made up of a lot of individuals, each with their own political opinions, beliefs, and honestly – time constraints. Budgets might not include the money to find a new provider to replace single-use plastics, or the powers-that-be might think that switching to a new material would be an enormous financial outlay. Many companies believe that they’ll have to invest in new machinery and completely re-tool their production lines to fabricate new eco-friendly products.
But… and this is the best part: using Qwarzo wouldn’t require a company to retool their facilities, or invest in new equipment. Qwarzo can be used in most traditional manufacturing equipment!
If you thought this couldn’t get better – you were wrong. The range of products that can be treated with Qwarzo material is practically endless. It works on everything from coffee cups and chip bags to candy wrappers and stronger packaging packaging materials.
Seeing as 40% of plastic pollution is the result of packaging that’s used just once and then discarded, this makes a lot of sense! The packaging industry is the largest culprit by far, producing over twice as much as the next largest industry, which is building and construction.
Qwarzo’s solution provides benefits to large corporations and distributors in the packaging. But, they also provide solutions to smaller companies looking to go green with their products in-store. And, they benefit consumers who are tired of contributing to a worldwide pollution crisis.
Really, it benefits the entire world – and, that’s something we’re really excited about. Basically, they’re changing the entire landscape of the packaging industry and revolutionizing the future - a future in which we completely eradicate the use of polluting plastics.
The Future of a Plastic-Free World
“It’s not just that we’ve done a lot of research. It’s a real product and it’s here right now. It’s ready,” says Milliery. “We’re currently providing consumers with stirrers made with Qwarzo, replacing the wooden and plastic alternatives.”
By the beginning of 2020, Qwarzo is also looking to enter the market in the form of straws. See: earlier mention of mushy paper straws – yuck! They’re in early talks with the biggest players in the food industry, and they’ve also just been awarded first place in the design track for the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge by National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures.
However, they’re open to large industrial collaborations and partnerships – and we think the world needs to be open to them too. Qwarzo is looking forward to the future, our future and they’re interested in hearing about the problems that big brands have. They can’t help you solve those problems if they don’t understand what they are!
The solution to your environmental problems is right here. Plastic trash is found in the guts of more than 90% of the world’s sea birds, it’s one of the main products of fracking, and if we don’t act now, we won’t get a second chance to.
Change is now, and the time’s up on waiting to shift over to these kinds of sustainable products.
“Our mission is to provide a solution to plastic and other harmful substances. We want to enable humans to live on a healthy planet and in a healthy environment.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Want to be a part of the #PlasticRevolution? Check out what Qwarzo is doing to change the world – and start demanding better from the brands that you’re shopping from. We’re looking at you, Starbucks!