Paper From Plant Waste Can Replace Plastics: Varden Startup Receives $2M Boost

A startup from Australia has plans for global expansion, replacing plastic in items like coffee pods with an eco-friendly paper made from plant waste.

The founders of Varden say the solution, called Paperseal, can transform the way consumer packaging is designed, going from single-use plastics that are rarely recycled to fully compostable materials for products like throwaway pods and pharmaceutical blister packs.

Varden leaders are guarded about the Paperseal manufacturing process, but have announced $2.2 million in funding from Li Ka-shing’s Horizon Ventures (which also backed Zoom, Impossible Foods and Spotify).

“We plan to use the money to expand from our prototype lab into our first commercial manufacturing plant,” says Mark Appleford, Varden co-founder and general manager of operations. “We’ll also be using the funds to ramp up research efforts and bring on fiber and chemistry experts to further strengthen our team.”

A second co-founder, Stuart Gordon, Varden general manager of innovation, notes that conventional papermaking is fast but not suitable for 3D shapes. And plastic thermoformers that make 3D shapes for use in consumer packaging can’t cope with traditional paper.

“Accordingly, we designed and engineered our own machine and are now scaling this into a full-sized production line about the size of a tennis court,” Gordon says.

“These production lines are big because the consumer packaging market is big, and these machines need to be capable of producing millions of products to meet customer demand.”

He says the process “is still very secret.”

The big difference is in the way the process forms unique paper fibers into needed shapes without creating holes that let flavor out and air in. To create a paper that will seal out all air and water vapor, the machine molds the fibers with a “unique toolset process that creates a natural, dense and impenetrable barrier,” Gordon says.

Paperseal sports a logo of an origami paper seal.

Biomimicry played a part in the development of what Gordon calls the “Tesla of paper for a new century,” in reference to the all-electric, zero emissions vehicle.

Appleford says: “Plants use structure at a cellular level to block or transport liquids and gas, so we examined closely the interplay of these mechanisms and how we could mimic the function within our own structures.

“Nature is also very energy efficient, which for a company like Varden can mean a lower cost of production.”

Varden used advanced research facilities at Monash University in Melbourne to look at the structure of conventional paper and sugar cane.

“Traditional paper material cannot deliver the water vapor nor oxygen barriers needed for food supply chains today because of how it is made,” Appleford explains. “We reverse engineered our materials from the plant structure and then worked out how to recreate that process in a new way, with a newly evolved paper material.”

A news release boasts that Paperseal will allow manufacturers that use plastic packaging “to lower their production costs and dramatically decrease the carbon footprint of their businesses at no consequence to product performance.”

Gordon says this is based on an in-depth life-cycle analysis of its materials in both a coffee pod and blister pack. “Our post-agricultural fiber source is relatively inexpensive and has, as part of its natural growth, captured C02 which is then netted against the natural composting that takes place.”

Varden is working with TÜV Rheinland, a testing, inspection and certification service, on compostability studies, which to date have been undertaken by Monash University and tested against TÜV standards.

Appleford says his company is in “highly developed” talks with two of the world’s largest coffee brands along with a few large multinational pharma companies. The company website recently sported a picture of Paperseal used for packaging a well-known brand of candy.

Varden is tackling a global problem that has polluted the world with marine litter and plastics that take hundreds of years to decompose. The European Union has banned single-use plastics beginning in 2021 and companies like Nestlé and Walmart have pledged to deploy sustainable packaging by 2025.

Gordon says his company plans to stay headquartered in Australia “as it’s a great place to conduct our research ‘under the radar,’” but sees the United States and Europe as its marketplace.

A production facility is planned for Europe within 18 months and the U.S. within 24 months. “So that means that consumers could have a ‘guilt-free’ Varden coffee capsule in their home two years from now,” he says.

Original Article : Forbes