First biodegradable non-plastic packaging to use graphene

Graphic representation of molecular structure of graphene

A UK biotech company is set to unveil what is claimed to be the world’s first truly biodegradable, compostable and commercially viable alternative to plastic packaging. The innovative material features biopolymers combined with Nobel Prize-winning graphene, which is derived from carbon and is stronger than diamond at an atomic level.

The company is called Toraphene and its eponymous new material uses biopolymers that compost naturally and biodegrade without human intervention, even in the ocean.

While biodegradable plastics currently exist, they rely on commercial composting, which uses energy to heat the compost, as well as presenting other logistical challenges. For example, in 2019, the BBC found that compostable plastics in Wales were going to landfills, rather than being composted, because almost all local councils were unable to deal with them.

In addition, some bioplastics produce methane gas when they decompose — a compound with a global warming potential 25 times that of CO2.  Toraphene can be optimised to mostly produce CO2 along with mulch that can be used to fortify topsoil.

With many existing alternatives to plastic, there are still sustainability questions to be answered, explains Gaute Juliussen, CEO and Founder of Toraphene:

Eco-friendly packaging image

“Amidst a climate crisis, plastic waste is known to be a huge, global problem and many plastic alternatives now exist, so why don’t we see them everywhere? It’s because they need specific manmade conditions to biodegrade, and many degrade into microplastics, which contaminate our oceans and food chain for centuries.

“Such bioplastics have effectively been ‘greenwashed’ and mis-sold to environmentally responsible consumers and companies. They also tear easily, shorten the shelf-life of the contents they contain and cannot be produced economically at scale.”

Due to the addition of Graphene, Toraphene has been shown to be stronger, thinner, and less permeable than alternatives, improving food safety and shelf-life. This presents the first commercially viable alternative to plastics, the company claims.

An entrepreneur, venture capitalist and former Associate Professor of Business, Juliussen founded Toraphene in 2018 with the initial aim of creating a green alternative to carrier bags and food and drink containers — such plastics make up 23% of marine waste.

Commenting ahead of the launch, Birgit Liodden, founder of The Ocean Opportunity Lab, said:

Disposable drinks cup - half Toraphene, half plastic - flanked by Sea Turtles either side, one depicted with plastic bag to suggest marine pollution

“Toraphene has the potential to create a critical turning point in tackling the global plastic pollution crisis. We all know how pressing the climate crisis is, and plastic pollution is a huge problem, particularly in our ocean environments. I’m very heartened by the prospect of Toraphene, which should be a transformative step in tackling plastic pollution and play a huge role in making the world’s oceans plastic-free.”

Ahead of the market debut of Toraphene, which is patented in the UK, EU, and the US, Juliussen has launched an equity crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube, encouraging anyone who cares for the environment to be part of the journey.

Ultimately, Toraphene aims to render plastic packaging obsolete and disrupt the $4tr plastics industry. For the launch, Toraphene is renting production equipment from plastic bag manufacturers and plugging directly into existing supply chains. The company is already in talks with major consumer brands, retailers and food packaging suppliers.

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