PlasticFri aims to replace billions of plastic products with plant-based equivalents the upcoming years
As Max Mohammadi and his brother, Allen, were growing up, their family had a big emphasis on valuing nature and cleaning up pollution. As children, their parents would have the two brothers to clean the surroundings by collecting trash before they would start playing outside.
“That has actually stayed with us through today, and we still do that on a voluntary basis,” Max Mohammadi said. “Most of the trash we’ve been picking up is plastic, so we thought that we can’t travel the world and pick up trash, there should be a better way.”
Now, as the global community approaches a crucial point in the battle against climate change and pollution, groups are rising to meet the need for more environmentally-friendly products.
That includes the Swedish start-up, PlasticFri, which was founded by the Mohammadi brothers.
A worldwide problem
The United Nations Environment Programme estimates more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s. Researchers believe 60 percent of that is now either in landfills or in nature.
More than 99 percent of plastics used around the world right now are produced from chemicals acquired from oil, natural gas, and coal. Those are non-renewable resources.
Max Mohammadi says they want to have a significant impact on the environment, so their current plan focuses on business-to-business relations and practicality.
“We have made something that was possible to scale beyond the lab, while also using the same existing machinery which are being used today for producing other products, including plastic products,” Mohammadi said. “That creates a very scalable model for the technology.”
Plant-based plastic products
PlasticFri offers eight products which are 100 percent biodegradable, compostable and toxic-free. Those include drinking cups, straws, carrier bags, waste bags and mailing envelopes.
They use agricultural waste and specific non-edible plants as the raw material for the products, which are already tested and certified to meet European standards.
Max Mohammadi says they’ve been able to scale up quickly so far because of their use of existing machines.
“That gives us an extremely important edge, because we can scale very quickly, but then we need to have the financial and human resource portion to be able to do that,” Mohammadi said. “That’s what we’re doing right now to prepare for the expansion that’s happening.”
“You can’t expect people to change overnight”
However, their mission isn’t about selling a cup or a bag directly to consumers.
PlasticFri’s commercial strategy specifically targets brands and businesses which provide or use plastic products, like retail stores, grocery stores, wholesalers, food chains and cafes, to persuade them into using their environmentally-friendly products instead.
“You can’t expect people to change their behavior overnight,“ Max Mohammadi said. “The other way around this is to give them better alternatives, and better products.”
The start-up is also expanding outside of the Swedish market and into other large countries; including major retail stores in the United States. Mohammadi says they’re involved in a pilot program with Walmart, CVS Health, Target and others to get their carrier bags into stores.
Stacking international awards
Mohammadi says PlasticFri’s vision is to replace at least one billion plastic products in the next four years. He says it’s a bold goal, but it’s achievable with the success and partnerships they’ve seen so far.
Currently, the PlasticFri-team consists of ten people and the company is closing on their first financial funding round.
“We believe in this. We believe somebody has to do this, and if we don’t do it now, then when,” Mohammadi said. “We want to start a movement. Our products help every company and organization to reduce their environmental footprint, move towards circular economy and enhance their brand image by showing their customers that they care.”
PlasticFri has been recognized and awarded several times internationally, including Techarenan Challenge’s Startup Company of 2021, as well as World’s Most Innovative Sustainability Start-Up among more than 1400 companies worldwide at the World Future Energy Summit’s Climate Innovations Exchange in 2020.
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