Photo: Henrik Trygg
Photo: Henrik Trygg

Stockholm company finds sustainable solution to single-use plastics

The impact makers of Stockholm. By Invest Stockholm

“Plastic pollution is not a debate,” says Max Mohammadi, co-founder of award-winning green tech company PlasticFri. “It doesn’t have two sides. It is a problem happening worldwide and we need to act today.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Max has spent much of his life tackling plastic pollution in one way or another. On family days out, his parents would task him and his brother with picking up litter on the beach or whilst out in nature. It was a habit he continued into adulthood and one that he still makes time for today.

Yet Max was all too aware these small-scale efforts - and the efforts of others like him - were not enough. And so, during a research period following studies at KTH Royal Institute of Technology and subsequently Stanford University, he began seeking a more scalable solution. His brother later came onboard and, in 2018, they succeeded in developing a novel technology that produced biodegradable alternatives to fossil-based plastics. The end products include everyday items such as carrier bags, waste bags, aprons, cups, and straws that can replace single-use plastic used across industries. Most recently, they’ve expanded the range to include an e-commerce mailer that is recyclable as paper but as sturdy and moisture-repellent as its plastic counterpart.

PlasticFri’s environmentally-friendly bio-materials have different ‘recipes’ and applications but ultimately all work like a conventional petroleum-based plastic. Plastics are derived from petroleum and natural gas, therefore they are not biodegradable and as a result nearly all the plastic that has ever been made still exists today in one form or another. PlasticFri presents an alternative and creates a circular economy that ensures a healthier future for people and the planet.

“We use renewable resources when we produce the product which could be, for example, a carrier bag or waste bag. We take agricultural waste and wild or non-edible plants, something today that often goes to waste, and turn it into something of value - a product that is highly consumer-friendly but doesn’t damage the environment because it doesn’t use any toxic materials. When you compost it, it will become nutritious for the soil. And when you recycle it, the valuable raw material stays in the loop and can become new products.”

Setting a new standard

From the very beginning, the environmental advantages of PlasticFri were evident. But it’s not enough to focus on one area of impact, says Max. Social and economic impact should carry equal weight when building a future-proof company. This broader view drove him to make decisions such as keeping all production within the boundaries of the EU to further minimise impact and keep tighter control of the certifications.

“It’s not only about environmental impact because I think if a product only has environmental benefits but it’s the most expensive or impractical solution, then at scale it won’t reach the impact potential and nobody’s going to use it. So these three dimensions of impact - environmental, social, and economical aspects - need to work together.”

As plastic pollution continues to rocket, so does the need for solutions like PlasticFri. Compared to mainstream alternatives, the company offers up to 86% lower CO2 emissions depending on the product application. During production, PlasticFri saves more than 26,000 litres of water per ton of the material and more than 1,400 litres of oil per ton. Additionally, around 65% less energy is consumed whilst making the products.

It’s necessary advances such as these that led to PlasticFri being named one of the world’s most innovative sustainability startups. But their work is far from done, says Max. The next step is to create a platform that offers a growing range of innovative solutions for alternatives to fossil-based plastics while democratizing access to knowledge with a separate educational pillar called Green School. This nonprofit part of PlasticFri will be dedicated to publishing easy-to-consume information about the environment with a main focus on plastic and the circular economy.

“Our goal is to become the new standard and a one-stop shop offering eco-friendly solutions and alternatives to conventional plastics. We have already created our own category. We’re challenging the norm and big companies are approaching us. The long-term goal is not just about selling a bag or cup, but changing the way we all see and consume plastic.”