“You can’t just throw it into the trash!”
Eight years ago, that’s how Daphna Nissenbaum’s arguments with her teenage son began. He’d finish a water bottle, then absentmindedly toss it into the garbage. The scoldings she gave him for not recycling made the Israeli mother of five think about what else was being thrown away.
“I realized plastic bottles weren’t the main issue,” Nissenbaum says.
After all, they could be recycled, when people remembered to do so. But what about all the flexible packaging — chip bags, candy wrappers and go-to containers — Nissenbaum also saw crammed into the trash?
She did some research. What she found shocked her: Most flexible packaging isn’t recycled and ends up in landfills, oceans or other places.
Unless an alternative could be found, “our children will find themselves facing mountains of plastic,” says Nissenbaum. She thought of an orange peel or apple. Once discarded, it disintegrates biologically and turns to compost. Why couldn’t packaging be engineered to do the same?
Most people would consider that a rhetorical question. Nissenbaum made it a personal challenge.
Before earning an M.B.A. in marketing and entrepreneurship, Nissenbaum graduated from the Israeli Army’s elite software engineering program. “Part of our education was thinking out of the box,” she explains. “We were trained to create something from nothing.”
In the basement of her home, Daphna began the Tipa Corporation. Funds raised from friends and family allowed her to hire bioplastic experts. Their job: to source flexible packaging materials that are biodegradable.
Nothing existed. Instead, Tipa had to develop its own. What it came up with looks like plastic. It acts like plastic. Yet when composted, the material naturally breaks down in 180 days or less.
“Plastic that turns into compost,” says Nissenbaum. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Yet her extensive business and management background said that wasn’t enough to be successful. “If we want the mass market to cooperate and adopt compostable solutions, we have to make it easy to do,” she says.
For instance, Nissenbaum’s team engineered their patented bioplastic to meet manufacturers’ requirements and to adapt to production practices already in place. That way, there’s no need for companies to invest in new equipment.
Today, Tipa makes zippered bags, stand-up pouches and packaging for coffee, snacks and produce. Clients range from a London-based fruit-jerky company to fashion designer Stella McCartney, who’s replacing all her plastic packaging with Tipa products and recruited the company to make invitations for her 2018 runway show in Paris. Individual products like compostable sandwich bags and biodegradable garbage bags are also sold online through eco-conscious retailers like Reuseit.com.
No longer headquartered in Nissenbaum’s basement, Tipa’s 25 employees have offices in the U.S., U.K. and Israel.
Coming up with a solution to landfill waste that the world will want to adopt has been a challenge, Nissenbaum admits, but she believes compostable plastics are the answer. So do her kids. Nissenbaum has even visited their schools to share Tipa’s mission. “They’re very proud,” she says.