A company in Colombia is making eco-friendly plates out of the tops of old pineapples.
And just like a pineapple top you can plant in your backyard, the plates made by Lifepack contain seeds that can sprout in soil.
The plates are Lifepack’s latest effort to reduce plastic waste worldwide. The 12-year-old company also makes sandwich containers and coffee cup sleeves that contain seeds from edible plants like cilantro, amaranth, and strawberry.
“We are using agricultural residues that people were just throwing away, and we are transforming them into useful products,” Lifepack cofounder Claudia Barona told Business Insider Today. “That’s where we make a difference.”
On a busy day, workers at the Lifepack factory in Cali can churn out 10,000 eco-friendly plates. The company sources its pineapple crowns from a nearby processing plant, whose owners don’t charge Lifepack for the crowns.
“We are trying to promote the creation of circular economies,” said Gloria Estela Ramirez, manager of the processing plant, Deli Agro Foods. “And when it comes to our pineapple crowns we think they couldn’t be in better hands. Lifepack is doing an important job and its something we support.”
From there, Lifepack workers shred the pineapple tops, mix them with recycled paper, and flatten them into sheets that are left out to dry under the sun. A machine then presses them into form.
“We were not just designing a biodegradable plate. We wanted to go further and create a plate that generates life,” cofounder Andres Benavides, Barona’s husband, said.
Colombia, like nearly every country in the world is trying to reduce plastic waste.
In 2017, the country introduced a tax on single-use plastics that increases each year. And in some cities, informal “pickers” who pull recyclable materials out of the trash are now paid as municipal workers.
But the country that creates the most plastic waste in the world is the United States. One recent study revealed that Americans’ contribution to global plastic waste is five times greater than previously estimated. On average, a single American discards 150 single-use plates and cups each year. That adds up to over 1 million tons of plates — about the same weight as an offshore oil platform.
Most of that plastic is not recyclable and ends up in landfills. But getting consumers to buy eco-friendly products isn’t easy.
“When we started out a decade ago, people told us we were crazy,” Barona said. “Here in Colombia people were not very environmentally aware, and everyone just wanted to use whatever was cheapest.”
Lifepack’s plates retail at around $2.50 per dozen — more than double the price of plastic plates from a big box store in Colombia.
Despite the higher price point, Lifepack has been able to capitalize on growing demand for sustainable packaging, which has increased by 40% since the company started.
Its plates are now sold in three large supermarket chains domestically. The company also handles dozens of orders through its website each week, with a handful of customers in the US.”In an eight-hour shift we can make anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000 plates,” Benavides said. “Currently there is more demand than what we can supply, so we are sold out. But that means there’s a positive response from clients and there’s a market for our product.”
Lifepack’s next challenge is to modernize its equipment so that it can boost production.
Barona and Benavides also plan to franchise the business and expand into new countries to help more people to cut back on plastic — one plate at a time