Breaking the plastic habit at Soane Materials. Here's how.

August 23, 2023
Sharon Webb
Without a road-map for change, 11 million metric tons of plastic will enter the ocean yearly.

The World is Now Choking on Plastic—But It’s a Problem We Can Solve at Soane.

At Soane Materials, we’re on a mission to save the Earth from one of technology’s great successes: synthetic plastics.

Used by almost every industry in the world, this ultimate commodity of convenience is now the world's greatest environmental problem.

At Soane, we believe the best way to treat a problem is to radically alter the systems that created it and engineer something better. -- Nicky Soane, VP

For us, this would be a universally applicable replacement for plastic. Because let’s face it, our society is addicted to plastic. Yet, we owe the Earth something better, don’t we?  

In the hundred-plus years since its invention (with the creation of Bakelite in 1907), this family of materials has insinuated itself into every aspect of our commerce. We eat and drink from plastic dinnerware, straws, and cups, afterward discarding garbage in plastic bags. We bring food and household products home in plastic-reinforced cardboard containers, plastic bottles, and plastic jugs. We rely on plastic to be absorbent or water-resistant as needed, strong or supple, or otherwise customized for our purposes.

Very few of us realize that the properties that make these materials so durable, lightweight, malleable, and so delightfully useful also needlessly prolong their lifespan so that they end up in landfills, oceans, and even breastmilk. The numbers are staggering.

“Some 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean yearly, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic every minute.” – Newsweek Magazine

Today, we know that synthetic plastics take many hundreds of years to decompose, and they’re choking the Earth. Each year, Americans deposit 25 billion Styrofoam cups into landfills, each cup taking some 500 years to decompose. Plastic bottles decompose over hundreds of years, depending on what they’re made of; a commonplace plastic water bottle, for example, lasts for 500 years in landfills. Same thing for diapers. They’ll long outlive our babies, surviving for 500 years or longer. Plastic bags? Even worse. Typically made of polyethylene, they’ll need up to 1000 years to decompose.

No wonder these synthetics are called “forever plastics.”  

Everyone realizes that most plastics need to be temporary. Many of their products are deliberately evanescent, specifically intended for single use. Things like plastic bags, bottles, straws, wrappers, containers, and diapers shouldn’t survive for centuries.

Wait – isn’t this problem solved already? Aren’t there already biodegradable, biobased materials that let us sidestep the “forever plastics” problem?

Yes, but: Although available biodegradable alternatives may decompose faster than synthetic plastic, they don’t match its performance or price point. Synthetics are still better. Biodegradable materials can leak or deform, tear too easily, or otherwise fall short of their synthetic competitors' high standards for convenience, usability, and affordability. No wonder our lives are still dominated by forever plastics.

Soane Materials offers a roadmap for change. We’ve engineered our biodegradable materials to have the mechanical properties that customers demand at costs comparable to synthetics.

Our innovation begins with a familiar plant-derived substance called cellulose. Cellulose, however, isn’t enough by itself to do the trick because alone, it typically produces substances like paper that are weak, friable, and leaky. Instead, we’ve supercharged cellulose to make it strong. We use cellulose molecules that are nanoscale or microscale in size, then treat them with earth-friendly formulations, allowing us to achieve performance and lifespan appropriate for each type of consumer product. Containers, packaging, bottles, cups, diapers, and more – our cellulose-derived products are tuned to do their jobs and then biodegrade rapidly when their jobs are done.

In short, we’ve found a solution that works. And when you can replace forever plastics with biodegradable alternatives that work the same and are at cost parity, you can unwrap mission-critical change.

We owe the Earth something better than synthetic plastics. At Soane Materials, we’re fulfilling this responsibility.

“Our company has a powerful change agent mind-set that allows us to harness the established principles of chemistry to confront the life-and-death perils that threaten our very existence.”--Dr. David Soane