Sustainable Packaging

Sonalie Figueiras / Co Founder Source Green Packaging Hong Kong

May 29, 2022 Cory Connors Season 2 Episode 61
Sustainable Packaging
Sonalie Figueiras / Co Founder Source Green Packaging Hong Kong
Show Notes Transcript

https://www.sourcegreenpackaging.com/

Is compostable the answer to sustainable packaging? 
What if your bags could dissolve in water? 
Should all plastic be compostable? 

https://www.ororagroup.com/
https://www.landsberg.com/

https://ororapackagingsolutions.com/
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https://www.landsberg.com/
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Cory Connors:

Welcome to sustainable packaging with Cory Connors . Today's guest is my friend. Sonalie Figuieras who is the co-founder of source green packaging, Sonalie , how are you?

Sonalie Figueiras:

Hi, Cory . I'm super excited to be here. Thank

Cory Connors:

you so much for taking some time. Tell us about you know, how did you get into this crazy world of sustainable?

Sonalie Figueiras:

Absolutely. It's a little bit of a circuitous journey, but essentially, yeah. Long story short, about 15 years ago, I was having all these health issues. And so I couldn't find. Any kind of , solace or solutions in the medical sphere. So I started doing my own research and that led me, led me to understanding that actually a lot of my conditions were caused by, you know, the food I was eating and the products I was using. So I totally changed my life. You know, and went kind of non-toxic and organic. You know, I don't want to use the word natural, but you see where I'm going. I overhauled my diet and my lifestyle, and that just led me down a rabbit hole of research. And that's how I became also environmentally aware. And then the, the more environmentally aware they came more, I realized that there might be other people out there looking for what. I was learning. And so I created this blog called green queen with, with no plan, really just, just to share information at the same time, I obviously I was working in the finance world and I was obviously not, not fulfilled, not really happy. And I had this idea to do a green Starbucks. I realized Starbucks is already great, but what I mean is an eco healthy. So basically a coffee chain because I worked in Starbucks when I was in university in Philly for four years and I loved the company and I learned so much from it, but I realized that, you know, one day in the future, people might want to go to a Starbucks work everywhere. There was almond milk and coconut sugar and healthy plant based food and all that. So I wrote this business plan and while I wrote the business plan, I came across this site called Alibaba. Which was not known, not public very much, you know, in the, in the industrial B2B sphere. And I couldn't find any organic or eco products on Alibaba at the time. And so that's how I had the idea to start a green alley. I thought, forget the green Starbucks. What we really need is to fix the supply chain. Supply chain is sort of my, my, my favorite area. I think a lot of people get that wrong in business. You can start all the great brands you want, but if you don't have the supply chain infrastructure, it's not going to work. And so eco where when Eagle warehouse launched, we actually did have compostable packaging. But we were way too early. This was back in 2015 and the global demand just wasn't there and the awareness wasn't there. And so what really took off was organic food. So the whole, the whole point of the site was we were matching certified organic suppliers and farms and brands with trade buyers from all around the world. And what I learned there is the importance of vetted and verified. suppliers So everybody on the site was vetted by us in house and we would check documentation, certification, license, et cetera. And then, you know, fast forward to a couple years ago, I really wanted to transform eco ware house into a B2B e-comm sites. So where you could actually complete the transaction on the site rather than just be mad. And I, I met with Luke he found me at an event. By this time also green clean had become a global media company. And I do a lot of speaking at events around the world. And so he had just moved to Hong Kong and saw me that I was going to be at an event and came and said, hi. And we really connected over organic and over packaging. And I was looking for a co-founder. To kind of revitalize and kind of launch a new phase of eco warehouse and the more we work. So obviously we headed off, we worked together ever since, but the more we looked into it, the more we realized, you know, what food is really, really well tackled. And everyone's attention is on food, but packaging, which we felt was about to have a moment. Because of quite a few tailwinds we could see, including regulatory tailwinds, consumer awareness, tailwind, I'm sure you feel the same. I'm sure if you started your podcast four years ago, it wouldn't be the same as today. There is something happening right now. And so we decided, you know what, we're just going to focus on packaging and both of us are avid kind of low wasters at home in our personal lives. And so it just made sense to us. We have a great love for the ocean. And I grew up on an island. Luke is an ex Navy Naval officer. He's from Brittany in France, like, oh, is by the sea, you know? And so obviously anybody who loves the sea and the beach is going to be very aware of the tragedy of the plastic waste crisis,

Cory Connors:

which islands.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Well, Hong Kong, Hong Kong,

Cory Connors:

exactly

Sonalie Figueiras:

on Hong Kong island itself. And I mean, we go to the beach every weekend, you know, even in the winter. And unfortunately, you know, people don't realize, but 40 years ago we had coral reefs in Hong Kong, and now we just have plastic pollution and dirty water everywhere. You know, it's something that's. If, if you, as I said, if you, if you are a C person. You're very aware of it. And also, you know, having traveled across Asia for the last, you know, few decades, I can tell you what a stark difference it was to go to Thailand and Vietnam now, versus when I was a kid and it was just paradise, same with the Philippines, you know? And I it's, people will tell you the same thing about Bali, Indonesia, and it's just, it's. It's true.

Cory Connors:

It's it's so sad to see the turn. And I think that's what we're doing here. This podcast is all about turning the tide it's so interesting that you mentioned the sea because so many of the people that have been on this podcast are surfers. They, and they, I, you know John from Chris foam will from oh, flexi hex . Yeah. And several more. I apologize to anybody I forgetting, but Surfers and beach addicts like ourselves are all very interested in keeping the ocean clean. You know, because we're there, we look at it where we go to the coast a lot. We go to the beach a lot in Oregon here where I live, we call it the coasts because it's not warm. It's just the coast. But that's a little difference for you. But it's beautiful. But a cold.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Do you have much plastic pollution? You know, pristine then the rest of the world,

Cory Connors:

we have a great organization here called SOLV. And they have I think quarterly beach cleanups, and we have lots of organizations that do beach cleanups. Anytime we go to the beach where, or to the coast, we're, we're picking up anything that we see, but it's pretty nominal. It's a lot of. There's a lot of fishing right there in at the Oregon coast, a lot of salmon, a lot of different fish there. So there's, you know, you'll see some buoys and things like that. Rope, you know, wash up as we all know fishing gear is a huge part of the waste problem in, in the ocean. We're we're doing, we're doing our part with the packaging, right? So, so tell us about source green . So you're in Hong Kong.

Sonalie Figueiras:

So we are based in Hong Kong, but honestly, probably the site is global and our biggest target market is the United States. And we were looking to have some of the team-based. There are various. So we're just because of COVID, there was a ton of issues with travel and restrictions, but other than that Luke and I are both super passionate about serving the United States market. Honestly from the point of view of consumer awareness and business awareness, the United States is ahead of the curve. And also there's a huge opportunity. So in Europe, I would say there's also consumer. And there are also regulatory tailwinds, but I would say that there's also more it's, it's maybe easier individ in individual countries to kind of sort your problem, but in the U S because it's this giant market and because e-commerce is so much more than. And anywhere else on earth, except for China and because food and takeaway and delivery is also such a developed market and has been for so long, I would argue much longer than the European market. Europeans are only now getting crazy about takeaway and delivery, but, you know, I lived in the U S I went to university there. You know, delivery has always been there. I mean, of course the ubiquitous pizza delivery, right. That was us. Right. And so I think right at this moment in time, that's the number one market that needs to be served. And there is such a big market and so many. I think that's really one of the blind spots of the conscious consumer movement in the U S which is very advanced in other ways, when it comes to organic or regenerative agriculture or plant-based you know, these trends or wellness and, and just, you know, transplant. Ingredients and just better for you categories that all these things have just exploded in the U S you know, with companies like thrive market or imperfect foods or things like that have whole foods obviously is, is, is a leader in this category, but somehow packaging, which has, it's always been strange to me that people would want to buy organic food and want to buy better for you. But the packaging is not part of that. Cause for me, and that's always been something unique about green queen, my media company. We're not just human health and we're not just planet health for me, they're linked. Right. Right. And one thing that I think is going to be a big topic in the U S is PFAS or PFS and just toxic the toxic part of. And

Cory Connors:

forever

Sonalie Figueiras:

chemicals, right? Exactly. The forever chemicals that the, the, we are, I think the first marketplace in the world to be a hundred percent PFAS free oh, wow. So all, all our stuff is PFAS free . And then we're we say we're forever plastic free, which is basically we. Take any plastics that are the CC carbon chains. So like the P the PET , the PVC, et cetera. We do allow a little bit of fossil fuel based polymers such as PVOH, which is, you know, the one that dissolves in water. Yep. And PBAT and PBS, all three of which can still allow for Serta for compostability certification.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. That home cost compostability is becoming the next thing. It seems like my question about that is if you received something that was home compostable, would you really put it in your.

Sonalie Figueiras:

I actually pay for a food compost service because we don't have a composting facilities in

Cory Connors:

Hong Kong. That's a great idea. I would love to see it in action, but it seems that's the answer I get most of the time is, oh, I don't have composting or I, you know, I, thankfully I have somebody that will take it professionally, so, so that's good too.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Right. So this is the issue. So industrial composting, which is where most of it sits is in our view, not the ideal solution, but home comp. What we're really looking for are solutions that are either you can call them home compostable, or I hate this word biodegradable, because it doesn't mean anything. But what we're looking for is materials that. Degrade in natural environments. So if you put them in, in earth, right. Or even put them in water. Yes. The other day we spoke to a lady who's made a material that if you put in water in a water bucket overnight, it just dissolves. And with no toxins and no damage to Marine life or anything like that. So it's, and it's not, could be a wage. So the idea is,

Cory Connors:

hold on a second. If, if, and I'm sorry to interrupt, but if, if it's supposed to be.

Sonalie Figueiras:

It's water resistant, not water. That's, that's something that we find. Yeah. So we do, we have a lot of we do a lot of work in material innovation and we connect with a lot of startups that are really at the next frontier of material science. And this is an issue, right? A lot of them are able to get to the point where they can have these fantastic completely bio-based non-toxic gradable in natural condition materials, but then you can't have every, every speck of plastic. So a lot of times they are not waterproof, but they are water resistant. So enough for certain use cases.

Cory Connors:

Is this the product that we're calling the invisible. No,

Sonalie Figueiras:

no, no, no. Invisible bag is made from PVOH. Both guys are using a combination of starch and PVOH, which is a synthetic polymer. Now the holy grail would be a bio based version of such. Yeah. And in the next couple of years, we hope to phase out all fossil fuels, but I mean, just to be clear, and I think a lot of people are confused about this. Compostable does not equal fossil fuel free. Right? And so for example, Tepa, which is, you know, having a huge success moment just raised 17 million is probably, and, and which really kind of markets. Really super sustainable. They use all these, they use PBS PBAT. I mean, they are not a hundred percent fossil fuel free. Right. And that's why the term plastic free is problematic. And we were very, very clear with our suppliers that if they do use PBAT PBS for PVL so synthetic, but polymers that that can still be composted. And in some cases, home compostable based. So it's still better than just having plastic that's sitting around that will degrade. We were clear with them that we would not allow for them to use the term plastic free . So, and that's why we say forever plastic free, because we don't do like the PE the pet, the PVC, where they cannot be degrade fit in composting condition. So our focus is really on end of life.

Cory Connors:

Good. That's great. How do you feel about recycling? Is that something that you're interested in, or it sounds, I haven't heard you say anything about recycling. No.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Let's start with this. Do I think all recycling is bad. I mean, obviously there are use cases and examples where recycling works to an extent, but if I look at the facts which are the following one, recycling was invented by the plastic industry. Two recycling rates worldwide are just so, so bad. I mean, the success rate has been so low. Many, many types of plastics have no recycling market for most of recycling is really what I would call down cycling. If we really look at the value of the product that comes out of it five recycling doesn't solve for the toxin issue.

Cory Connors:

Now you're all of these things you're saying are focused on plastic . Sonalie Figueiras: Oh, yeah. Sorry. I really want to focus on plastic recycling. I should've said that. I thought that's what you meant and I shouldn't have assumed you're right. Cause we should also talk about glass and paper recycling, but I'm supposed to speaking specifically about plastic recycling. You can talk about whatever you want. I just want to be clear.

Sonalie Figueiras:

No, you're absolutely right. No, you're absolutely right. I wasn't, I wasn't there six would be that you know, plastic recycling. Is still encouraging the creation and the extraction of fossil fuels, which obviously we are honestly against, we really believe in a transition away from fossil fuels and seven. And I think this is probably the most kind of business part of it. It it's the explanation is there are so many people working on. But very few people in it by a percentage working on end of life solutions and naturally degradable solutions and, you know, materials that are bio-based and really focusing only on those. So we'd like to serve a market that is unserved versus frankly, continuing to push something that still is quite probably. It's still an emissions problem. It's still a toxicity problem. It's a value, a up chain value problem. And it just has not proven that it works. And you know, a lot of European and American recycle recycling has just been exported to Asia and Africa and become the problem of countries that, you know, didn't deserve. And that's why China closed its doors to it at the end of 2017 and really kind of threw the recycling market up in the air. And basically said, sorry, you know, all, and so all these Europeans who, who cause, you know, in Hong Kong, we have a lot of people who move here from abroad and they'll come here and they'll say, oh gosh, there's no recycling here. It's so bad in Europe. Everything's recycled. Well actually, no everything's exported . So that you can feel like your system's working, but it's not.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. I like to have a lot more positive attitude about things myself and really look at the things that are positive about recycling. There are a lot of really great things happening with recycling in particular with plastics. So we'll have to agree to disagree on some of these points, but you're right. There's a lot of things that need to be done. So hopefully those things will change soon. I don't know. I don't know that that biodegradable is the exclusive solution or compostable is the exclusive solution. I think it's one piece of the pie . And that's just my opinion. I think recycling will still be a part of the pie in the future because it does work companies like Trex are doing great things with recycling, or like you said, down cycling, but they're turning plastic into something very usable building materials that are very sought after. So that's good to see.

Sonalie Figueiras:

It's true. I mean, fair enough. I think, as I said, most people will disagree with us on, on our stance, but this is what we've chosen to address. And again, I do want to caveat, I hate the term bio-degradable, I'm not sure that there is a perfect term, but the point is materials that don't leave a, an imprint. That are bio-based so they don't require fossil fuel extraction. They don't create any toxins when they are degrading. And that they're able to kind of not harm the environment that they're left in. So a more of a, kind of a circular approach. That's really the philosophy of what we're doing. It's not a perfect philosophy because it's not a perfect world and there's quite a few. Challenges and obstacles had, but we really hope to be able to offer businesses you know, solutions that are all of those things.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. And I, I wish you all of the best. I think that's a great mission for sure. So tell us about this invisible bag. It's very fascinating. It was all over your website. Can you tell us what it is or what it does?

Sonalie Figueiras:

Yeah. I mean we're so we're not the creator of invisible bag. They are one of our suppliers. There's a, we we've only got a few of their products. As I said, too, they, they make they make a material out of PVOH. Some people call it PVA, but it's, it's important to distinguish that it is it is not polyvinyl, acetate it's polyvinyl alcohol which is, as I said polymer that you can mix with starch and create a material that that can be composted industrially in some cases can be home compostable. And also I think what a lot of people love is that it can be degraded, dissolved in water, usually hot water. So there are certain conditions and. It, they certainly, the company certainly didn't invent the material. Many other companies are using it as well. One of the biggest manufacturers in the space in terms of the material is a company called Aqua pack, for example, but invisible is a brand that has, I think, done a really good job on, on the marketing and branding part. And so , they've created quite a name for themselves.

Cory Connors:

So what would you use a, an invisible bag for? What would the. W what would the intent be if it's not waterproof? What's the, what's the right fit for it.

Sonalie Figueiras:

They market it for a carrier bags for retail situations garment bags for fashion mailer bags.

Cory Connors:

And they're not w they're water resistant. That's right. . Okay. So they're not gonna, they're not going to start composting if it's sprinkling, as you, as you walk, as you walk home,

Sonalie Figueiras:

there are certain conditions that have to be met for it to usually like temperature and and length of time. So it's usually it dissolves very fast, but in hot water. So basically you can't immerse it in water, but. But yes, for a certain for example, for frozen food, it wouldn't work so well, so it doesn't, it's not universally applicable, but some people love it as an option again, to replace.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. I've seen a lot of videos about people swirling they're there they're poly or their bag. They should say their PVOH bag in hot water and it disappearing. Right. That's a fascinating idea. And the concept is really cool.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Yeah. I mean they absolutely it's actually a material that's been around for a really long time. It's been used in laundry. For, for many years, it's been used in medical, in the medical sector since the seventies. I mean the patents from, I think, yeah, the seventies. So it's just been rediscovered now for consumer packaging in the last few years,

Cory Connors:

like you said, there's a huge market all of the sudden, and it's growing quickly for the sustainable options. So that's good to know. Absolutely. So tell us about Hong Kong. How are things going over there? Is it, is it cold? Is it hot?

Sonalie Figueiras:

When it's winter, it's definitely a cold week. Like yesterday was 13 degrees Celsius. So it's, it's not, it's not, not cold, but it's definitely not super cold. Like in other parts of the world we are winter overall would, would, would be my. So you're not super long.

Cory Connors:

You're not going to the beach this weekend. Is that what you're saying?

Sonalie Figueiras:

We still go to the beach. We still go to the beach even when it's cold.

Cory Connors:

That's awesome. I love it. Yeah. So I had a couple more questions. Sure. Do you see companies focusing on the sustainability of their packaging? More or less? Okay. You're seeing that over there in Asia as well.

Sonalie Figueiras:

And just globally.

Cory Connors:

Yeah. And they're, they're coming to you to try to accomplish a goal probably right there. They're saying, listen, we're trying to get two plastic free. We're trying to get to less or no fossil fuels or is that kind of what they come to you for? Or are you, is it kind of, hands-off where they are just buying from your market.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Both. So we have people who just come and they know what they want and they, they create a an RFQ or an order. And then they, they deal with the supplier and it happens kind of without us. I mean, we've done the pre-work and

Cory Connors:

oh, I see. You're, you're connecting. You're you're linking the people.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Yeah. We're a marketplace so people can, can, can connect without us. But we also do get a lot of, kind of what I would call more like consulting. So we are working on some, we've got a lot of exciting stuff coming this year to kind of essentially digitally hold people's hands, depending on what industry they're in and say, all right, you're in this industry, you want to make your packaging sustainable. Here is like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, what you need to do, because I think what we've learned is that a lot of people just, they. And that's why it's great that, you know, you're doing this show and there's resources for people more and more because people just don't know,

Cory Connors:

hundred percent agree. I get the same questions every week, you know from the fashion industry. It's how do we replace the low density polyester? Bag from, you know, from the food industry. It's how do we replace the styrofoam to go container? You know? And it's, it's, it's the same over and over and over. So these people are going through the same issues. So I'm glad that we can solve them.

Sonalie Figueiras:

I love it. Absolutely. Absolutely. It's really important to do.

Cory Connors:

So, how do people get in touch with you guys? It's it's the website source screen packaging.com.

Sonalie Figueiras:

That's right. And we're very active on LinkedIn. So source green, packaging.com and you know, you can also email us hello@sourcegreenpackaging.com or you can connect with us on LinkedIn, myself, or loop. My co-founder and we're just, we're really responsive and reactive, and we really want to help people, you know, Sustainable packaging choices. So we're here for you.

Cory Connors:

Well, keep up the great work I'd like to thank Landsberg Orora for your continued support of this podcast. We appreciate it. And if you're listening, take a minute to review it and share it with your friends. Thank you so much, Sonalie . We really appreciate your time.

Sonalie Figueiras:

Thank you so much, Cory . It's been great. Thank you.