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one • five raises €10.5m for bio based packaging

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One • five are intending to replace single-use plastics (like condiment sachets), using biomaterials based packaging. This will play a role in reducing the 56 gigatons of GHG emissions projected from plastic by 2050. 

  • Germany-based one • five has raised €10.5 million in a seed funding round to discover, develop and commercialise biomaterials based packaging.
  • The company aims to reduce packaging carbon emissions by 76%, tackling the problem of single-use plastics, especially in developing countries.
  • Solutions aimed at reducing or eliminating single-use plastic go beyond mitigating emissions by reducing microplastics that are a major to population wellbeing and biodiversity hazard.

One • five intends to reduce non-recyclable, single-used plastic packaging used by FMCG companies, especially in the developing world with biobased alternatives. Biomaterials based packaging can go a long way in reducing pollution and waste to landfill, while also improving health and wellbeing.

Some paper-based products being developed by the company already have a sales pipeline, and are designed to provide the same or similar features that plastic sachets have. Eliminating the microplastics resulting from these sachets would have a large positive impact on improving biodiversity.

Biomaterials based bespoke packaging solutions 

One • five is a German start-up that has raised €10.5 million in seed funding round to use biomaterials to develop packaging solutions via its machine learning based platform, which helps it formulate customised solutions based on need.

The company acts as an R&D partner for packaging solutions by searching for the appropriate solution from over 260,000 data items that help it identify the most promising technologies, from a network of 2,400 research institutes and universities.

It claims to have already developed paper-based packaging solutions featuring high-performance functional coatings for the fast-moving consumer goods industry (FMCG). It is specifically targeting single-use, multi-layer sachets used in the Asian market.

One • five claims a sales pipeline for over 40 million square metres of these paper-based materials via partnerships with leading FMCG brands and packaging companies, with its products being able to reduce the carbon footprint of packaging materials by 76%.

FMCG companies’ green claims not backed by their actions

The report “Unilever’s Plastic Playbook ” highlights the problem faced by countries, like Sri Lanka, in dealing with the pollution caused by using single-use plastic sachets, largely from Unilever’s (LON:ULVR) business practices.

Going beyond selling condiments and cosmetics in developed countries, these sachets have been widely used to market everything from laundry detergents and seasoning, to snacks, which has caused a major waste crisis.

Plastic sachets were called “evil because they cannot be recycled” by the Unilever’s President for global food and refreshments in 2019, and CEO Alan Jope called for their elimination at a plastic sustainability event in July 2020, 

Yet, when Sri Lanka debated a measure to get rid of sachets for product sizes below 20 ml in 2020, Unilever tried to discourage the measure by arguing that they were a commodity suited to the poor, and continued to sell them in portions that attempted to circumvent the law.

It has used similar lobbying efforts to stop the ban on plastic sachets in India and the Philippines (10% of Unilever’s sales), which lawmakers in the two countries did eventually drop. Overall, Unilever achieves 58% of its revenues from emerging markets.

Calling itself a green champion that is on a path to becoming a world leader in sustainability, Unilever has also shelved five programs aimed at recycling or reducing single-use plastic in India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, including providing refill vending machines.

Improper waste removal policy and infrastructure has also endangered the biodiversity of rivers and land creatures in Sri Lanka. The Reuters report cites fisherman speaking of sachets infesting prawn breeding grounds. 

In the Amapara region, east of the capital Colombo, plastic has been revealed to be the cause of death of 20 elephants over the last years, based on autopsies conducted by wildlife veterinarians. 

Plastic solution lies with people as much as policy

Quite clearly FMCG companies, and policy makers alone can’t be relied on to bring about the change needed to eliminate single-use plastics in the developing world. What’s needed is a change in consumer behaviour and the availability of cost-effective green products.

However, this will take time, which is in scarce supply. London based climate law firm  ClientEarth has said that by 2050, GHG emissions from plastic could reach 56 gigatons, 10-13% of the entire remaining carbon budget.

ClientEarth also pressed Jope on the issue at Unilever’s recent shareholder meeting, which it attended by temporarily borrowing an activist investor’s shares, only to be placated by being told that the company was determined to find a solution.

The ability to raise €10.5 million by One • five may raise concerns over valuation similar to the dotcom era, but the problem being addressed is dire enough for impact investors to gamble on a machine-learning based bespoke packaging materials solutions provider.

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