Every year, people in the United Kingdom, 96 billion pieces of plastic are thrown away—the average household throws away 66 pieces every week. About half of this packaging waste is incinerated, while a quarter is buried in landfills, according to a May 2022 study by Everyday Plastic and Greenpeace. The amount of waste is difficult to understand.
“Plastic problems can be serious,” says Insiya Jafferjee, CEO and founder of shipping company Shellworks. Speaking at WIRED Impact in London this November, Jafferjee said that even small, seemingly simple pieces – such as the scoops included in children’s packs – add up to hundreds of millions of pieces of plastic waste each year. Shellworks was created to start cleaning up the amount of plastic that is thrown away. To do this, Jafferjee and co-founder Amir Afshar created products that could be used to package goods.
Dubbed Vivomer, the company’s products are made from microorganisms found in soil and water and can be made into rigid jars or containers, as well as flexible dispensers that dispense liquids. “The fish, or the benefit of this, is that if you throw the container away, the soil and aquatic insects will see it, recognize it as food, and break it down,” says Jafferjee.
The packaging does not need a special place to decompose: it can be composted at home or in recycling plants. If the Vivomer product is disposed of with normal waste, Jafferjee says, it will remain biodegradable, and will not produce any microplastics in the process. Depending on the size of the pack, it can take anywhere between a year and five years to break down.
Jafferjee told WIRED Impact that since Shellworks was launched in 2019, it has faced several challenges. To create its proof of concept, the team worked in a shed and had to use machines they could get for free. Then, on the evening of the first delivery, an electrical fire destroyed the company’s equipment. Since then it has learned to produce foreign products and started to produce more products.
The company’s most important project to date, Mr. Jafferjee says, has been the redesign of Haeckels’ brand of cosmetics. In total, it created more than 300,000 Vivomer products for 100,000 products, designed to store everything from face creams and serums to oils and exfoliating powders. “We’re trying to expand,” says Jafferjee. To deal with the plastic problem, a scale is needed.