This Startup is Making Plastic Green

Plastic waste is a global problem. One of the major concerns with its usage is that it takes too long to decompose, harming the environment, flora and fauna. A Singapore startup is trying to that

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Plastic has toxic pollutants that damage the environment and cause land, water, and air pollution. Estimates say more than eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean from coastal communities each year. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to break down, so the damage to the environment is longlasting. To solve the crisis, Roland Wee and Daniel Carraway founded RWDC Industries, a biotechnology startup in Singapore that develops cost-effective biopolymer material solutions, in 2015. It produces medium-chain-length polyhydroxyalkanoate (mclPHA) biopolymers that can be used to make eco-friendly consumable products.

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PHAs are linear polyesters naturally produced by bacterial fermentation of plant-based oils or sugar and are widely recognized as the only commercially viable biodegradable plastic due to its versatility. RWDC claims its PHA is certified to be fully biodegradable in soil, water and marine conditions (i.e., all potential end-of-life scenarios) by agency TÜV Austria (formerly Vincotte), within weeks with no toxic residue. The B2B company, which aims to build a sustainable future, supplies innovative bio-based materials to clients, who then turn them into products like single-use cutlery, straws, diapers, wipes, and agricultural mulch films. Zhaotan Xiao, president of RWDC, says, "Our material is made from 100 per cent renewable sources as it comes from a plant-based material."

Journey So Far

In 2018, the startup closed a US$13 million Series A2 round co-led by venture capital firms Vickers Venture Partners and WI Harper Group. Finance firm Ridgevale Enterprises and individual investors also participated in the round. The funding was used to expand PHA production capacity in Athens, US, to 2,000 tonnes per year, making it one of the world's largest PHA producers. RWDC chief executive officer Daniel Carraway believes PHA will be a major component in sustainable packaging materials. In July, RWDC won the inaugural Liveability Challenge, presented by Temasek Foundation Ecosperity, securing S$980,000 in funding for its proposal to make fully biodegradable drinking straws made of PHA.

The company expects the first commercial batch to be available this year. In a third lot of its ongoing series A funding round, the startup raised $22 million from Vickers Venture Partners and Eversource Retirement Plan Master Trust (the pension fund of Eversource Energy, a Fortune 500 company)—RWDC's first US-based institutional investor. "If we can make a biodegradable plastic that is highly versatile then we can really reduce the world's consumption of plastics, especially single-use plastic," says Xiao.