Plant Based Leaders | Solinatra
Creating Solutions to the Global Plastic Pollution Crisis
Solinatra is a prime example of the incredible promise and possibility available to green entrepreneurs in the fast-growing plant-based products market.
Like so many of its industry peers, the company was founded by a small team in response to their visceral reaction to the global plastic pollution crisis. Specifically, the founders sought to revolutionize a wasteful plastic product so many of us see every day, the single-use coffee pod.
Last year, 80 billion coffee capsules were produced worldwide, according to Solinatra data. Less than five percent of those were biobased – the rest were made from petroleum plastic or aluminum.
Solinatra’s journey began by bringing together a crack team of scientists and manufacturing experts in search of a suitable feedstock.
“The Solinatra team established our R&D facilities in Norfolk, England, so naturally we tested a few locally abundant crops from that area,” explained Georgie Oatley, Communications Manager at Solinatra.
Initial feedstock candidates included materials derived from grains, vegetables such as peas, and even flowers like evening primrose, which is already pressed in the Norfolk area to create essential oils.
Each capsule took on the natural color of its source feedstock.
“Those early days of testing featured a rainbow display of coffee capsules,” said Oatley with a laugh.
Today, Solinatra’s R&D center includes not only compounding facilities but also onsite injection molding facilities to ensure their materials meet the demands of the manufacturing process. The onsite labs also test materials on issues like eco-toxicity. The final stop in the Solinatra lab: the composting room, where the Solinatra team evaluates each new prototype against the end-of-life standards set by company leadership and various governing bodies.
“The team soon recognized an opportunity in the abundance of agricultural waste and turned their focus to crop waste left in the fields and the waste from agricultural refining,” said Oatley.
Today, these agricultural waste streams, drawn from wheat and similar rotational crops, are the company’s primary feedstock.
“Utilizing such waste means our products never compete with food for land use,” said Oatley.
And in a measure of poetic circularity, Solinatra also utilizes spent coffee grounds collected from coffee shops, which would otherwise contribute waste to landfills.
“The team also has eyes on the global market – exploring new feedstocks, sourcing and manufacturing in other countries,” said Oatley.
As a result, testing new feedstocks continues, including most recently, cocoa.
“Cocoa is one of my favorites so far,” said Oatley. “But that’s because my office is near the testing facility and the smell is just so delicious.”
Solinatra’s goal, as the company goes global, is to identify new local feedstocks in target markets that can then be utilized in nearby manufacturing facilities, rather than shipping feedstock material. Their plan also reduces carbon waste from transportation.
Pellets to Pods
Solinatra mills, dries, processes, and compounds its feedstocks with other ingredients to form plant-based pellets, which are sold to clients.
Solinatra’s pellets are “drop-in” ready, so companies currently utilizing polypropylene plastics through injection molding or thermoforming can simply substitute Solinatra’s natural, plant-based pellets in their manufacturing process, pouring them straight into the hopper.
“Clients run our material exactly as if they were utilizing plastic pellets, creating a seamless transition for manufacturers and brands who have invested vast sums of money in current production lines,” said Oatley.
The one adjustment some clients have required results in an important advantage.
Clients adjust their temperatures downward to reach the melt point, as our products do not require the same high heat as plastics. That brings down the energy costs of production, an added bonus.
“Clients adjust their temperatures downward to reach the melt point, as our products do not require the same high heat as plastics. That brings down the energy costs of production, an added bonus,” said Oatley.
While America’s K-cups are mostly thermoformed, the Nespresso capsules popular in Europe and Asia are injection molded.
“Each manufacturing process requires slightly different material development, so while we began with a focus on the European market, we’re currently developing grades of materials specifically for K-cups,” said Oatley.
Five Product Grades
While one food grade material is designed for coffee capsules, Solinatra is already expanding into a broader range of products. Today the company offers five grades of material, each one designed for a different type of packaging or product application.
“Single-use cutlery and all the products that go alongside cutlery are a critical market Solinatra is targeting for growth, including products such as chopsticks and drinks stirrers,” said Oatley.
But Solinatra isn’t only targeting the kitchen – other product lines encompass home and garden.
“Think about gardening, the temporary plant holders that you bring from the store, and the garden ties and garden supports. These are all products that could benefit from being plant-based and compostable,” said Oatley.
Solinatra’s additional product lines are designed to meet those outdoor needs.
“We are also developing a range of extrusion grade materials in our labs,” said Oatley. “Hopefully very soon we’ll be able to start sharing news of products made through extrusion and thermoforming.”
Pellets formulated and perfected for extrusion could allow Solinatra to expand into a broader range of food packing, such as the trays and inserts that are required to support so many different food products, from fresh foods to take-out.
The world’s policymakers have an important role to play in shaping the future – and that future is still very much being debated.
Both the UK and EU have begun banning single-use plastic cutlery and all kinds of tableware and packaging. But exactly which products will fall under those bans remains to be seen.
“The EU plastic packaging waste directive is still being refined,” notes Oatley.
Moreover, in the UK, every local authority has been directed to offer compostable food waste collections.
“Business taxes on general waste and refuse are going up in an effort to encourage more composting. We expect all food service locations will be required to have composting facilities or composting bins in the future,” said Oatley.
That could be a huge boost to circularity in the UK, and to Solinatra’s role in delivering on that promise.
“These types of regulations are useful in making sure that we have healthy and safe materials available to us as consumers. Solinatra is one hundred percent on the side of making sure that fossil fuel plastics are curbed,” said Oatley.
“But we also need to ensure that truly sustainable options aren’t swept up by those rules and stifled,” she added.
Solinatra has its sights set on the worldwide single use plastics market.
“We want to be a global brand,” said Oatley.
While Solinatra’s products can be found on store shelves in the UK and Netherlands today, the company is targeting the broader EU and is actively moving into the US, Indonesia, and Türkiye markets.
Our leadership team sees Solinatra’s product lines as a real solution to the global plastic pollution crisis, and we want to work with brands around the world to help them solve it.
“Our leadership team sees Solinatra’s product lines as a real solution to the global plastic pollution crisis, and we want to work with brands around the world to help them solve it,” added Oatley. “We want customers to understand that when they see the Solinatra name, they know that it is a truly sustainable choice.”
The Plant Based Products Council is playing a role in helping them achieve those global goals.
“It’s incredibly beneficial to be a part of the PBPC network in terms of being invited to the events, getting to know the incredible suppliers and companies working within PBPC and networking with them,” said Oatley.
Leveraging that broader web of companies and organizations committed to a healthier planet creates opportunities for growth and collaboration.
So often new products or ideas come to us, yet they require multiple partners – stakeholders committed to the cause. It’s great to be able to find like-minded companies and organizations through PBPC.
“So often new products or ideas come to us, yet they require multiple partners – stakeholders committed to the cause,” continued Oatley. “And it’s great to be able to find like-minded companies and organizations through PBPC.”
Join our growing group of plant-based leaders working toward a more sustainable economy. Learn more about the benefits of PBPC membership.