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Fiber-based bowls being made by Footprint
Fiber-based bowls being made by Footprint.
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This article was originally published on NYTimes.com as part of their Fast Forward series, which examines technological, economic, social and cultural shifts that happen as businesses evolve.

The pandemic came at a time when momentum was building for a shift away from plastic, with many consumers demanding alternatives or halting use of products (plastic straws) altogether. Although about 72 percent of Americans say they actively try to limit their plastic use, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, the amount of plastic waste per person has remained constant: about 4 ounces per person every day, for a total of about 15.6 million tons in 2017.

But to those who are working on alternatives to single-use plastic, the consumer momentum is not disappearing. In fact, founders of several plastic-alternative companies said that they had seen even more interest from consumers in their products, and a renewed commitment from some of the larger companies they work with to press on.

“We’re fortunate enough that we aren’t seeing anyone say, ‘I’m not worried about sustainability, I’m just going to focus on survival right now,’” said Troy Swope, co-founder and chief executive of Footprint, which produces fiber-based alternatives to single-use plastics (cardboard, essentially). “If anything, we’ve seen an acceleration,” he added, since companies often see a boost from using sustainable packaging.

Mr. Swope said that his product, which supplied food service items at this year’s Super Bowl, was different from other fiber-based alternatives in several ways. The most important are a shelf life that is comparable to that of plastic, which helps prevent additional food waste; complete biodegradability and compostability; and the ability to be microwaved, unlike plastic.

Footprint was born of Mr. Swope’s work for 15 years as an engineer at Intel, where he became an “accidental environmentalist.” He saw firsthand the many different elements of plastic packaging that accompanied Intel products and was stunned by the amount of waste in the shipping and in the supply chain in general. He was even more alarmed that silicon wafers, elements of Intel’s processors, were considered contaminated after being transported in plastic that was similar to the tubs of cut fruit from the grocery store.

“We found the same level of contamination on the food that we did on the wafer,” he said, adding, “if it’s bad for a wafer, it’s bad for a human.”

Mr. Swope described a trip to Hawaii with Yoke Chung, his Footprint co-founder and colleague at Intel, many years ago where they realized that, because of ocean pollution and climate change, they were going to have to tell their children “what the ocean used to look like.”

“So that combination of what we saw happening to the ocean, and the food contamination and, later on, what it was doing to our kids, made us say, ‘Let’s go do something about it.’”

Read original article on NYTimes.com

We Thank You

Customers Already Committed to Change

We're passionate about eliminating plastic.

Footprint is changing the world by helping our customers eliminate plastic.  Footprint has assembled the widest range of process technologies and manufacturing platforms designed to eliminate single use plastics.

Meet The Co-Founder

Troy Swope

“We’re extremely proud to work with the world’s leading consumer packaged goods companies and grocery retailers to help them achieve their sustainability goals and disrupt the plastic industry,” said Footprint CEO Troy Swope. “Through material science and process innovation, we are working to solve some of the greatest issues of our time: plastic pollution, the negative health impacts of plastic, and climate change. We’re committed to moving quickly to meet global consumer needs for fiber-based, compostable products.”

What plastic do YOU want to eliminate?

Footprint is changing the world. We have assembled the widest range of process technologies and manufacturing platforms designed to eliminate single-use plastics.