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Making packaging out of shrimp shells

The steep rise of e-commerce has been a boon for consumers, but the packaging that goes with it is a massive downside for the planet. All that single-use plastic and Styrofoam, especially for cold packaging, is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently climate change.

Major companies, like Amazon, say they are trying to reduce packaging, but of the 380 million tons of plastic produced annually about half of it is for single-use purposes, like product packaging and Styrofoam.

Now, companies like TemperPack, Green Cell and a California-based startup called Cruz Foam are making more recyclable and biodegradable packaging. Cruz Foam is using shrimp shells in its packaging.

“What we’ve done is really built a process which allows us to take this waste and essentially manufacture and turn it into large-scale replacements for plastics,” said John Felts, CEO of Cruz Foam.

The foam is made from chitin, a material found in shrimp shells, insects, and fungi. It is biodegradable, so you can either compost it or it will just degrade quickly itself in a landfill. Felts calls it “earth digestible.” Since it is made from waste, the costs are lower than other biomaterials. And Cruz Foam doesn’t make the packages, rather it provides packagers with the material.

“We scale with existing manufacturing and that has allowed us to reach economies of scale and cost very quickly,” added Felts.

The company is already working with Rivian and Whirlpool, and investors see big opportunities.

“It’s a huge space, the total addressable market here, between the municipalities and the states and the countries that are banning polystyrene, and single-use plastic,” said Dan Fishman, co-founder of Regeneration.VC, a firm backing Cruz Foam. “And the idea that corporates are making these pledges as well, there’s a huge business here.”

Cruz Foam has several products, from cold packaging for foods to protective wrap to substitute for bubble wrap. But this is a big field with other companies producing packaging from natural materials like seaweed, mushrooms, waste wool and recycled pulp.

The company also is backed by Helena, Sound Waves, At One Ventures and One Small Planet, with current total funding reported at $18 million.

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