At the Sunday Motor Co. Cafe in Madison, New Jersey, customers are sampling the latest in biodegradable non-plastic utensils. Specifically, seaweed straws.
The distributor says “Designed to Disappear,” which is exactly what the co-founder of sustainable start-up Loliware had envisioned.
Chelsea Briganti, who calls herself “Mare”, was born and raised in Hawaii, where, as a child, she remembered the pristine coasts.
“And I’ve constantly noticed over the years, as I got older, that there was a ton of plastic pollution in the ocean and the coast. And of course, that had a big impact on me, seeing it happen,” she said.
That’s why Brigani founded Loliware in 2015, which started in Silicon Valley and also has an office in New York City.
“The triple planetary emergency is serious: this is plastic pollution, climate change and biodiversity loss, so we have decided to tackle this problem with marine technology,” said Briganti.
Loliware takes the algae, grinds them and then combines them with color, minerals and water. The results are algae-based pellets instead of plastic pellets. These can be fed into a normal plastic making machine to make tools.
“Marine technology is a competitive technology to replace plastics on a large scale, because it is high-performance, cost-competitive, scalable and regenerative. So it is the most sustainable alternative to plastics on the market,” said Briganti.
In an increasingly competitive market for plastic alternatives, Loliware straws appear to pass the sip test.
“I would take it over a paper straw because it doesn’t feel soggy and it retains its texture,” said Hetal Kothari, a Sunday Motor Co Café customer. “I’m a vegetarian, so I think it’s even more attractive to come to places that have these kinds of options.”
Renee and Vick Orderman, owners of the Sunday Motor Co Café, said they chose the seaweed alternative after sampling some soggy paper alternatives. They also found that the cost, which is slightly more expensive than plastic, is an advantage.
“It’s expensive for small businesses to choose sustainable and green products, so we try to do everything we can, and this was one of those items,” Vick said.
Loliware products are cost-competitive because they can be made with the same equipment as plastic. They work with Sinclair & Rush, based in Arnold, Missouri, to manufacture their products on existing plastic molds. While they are making straws now, they expect to expand into other products like mugs. They also hope to use Sinclair & Rush’s worldwide manufacturing facilities to reach overseas markets.
“Our new model will be launched next year where we essentially offer maritime technology to all manufacturers around the world to replace tens if not hundreds of single-use plastics next year,” said Briganti.
Loliware’s largest customer so far is the Cornerstone Restaurant Group, but Briganti said it will add new partners quickly. Backers include H / L Ventures, City Rock Venture Partners, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, Geekdom Fund, The Field Group, and Sinclair & Rush. The company has raised just over $ 12 million to date.