How potato scraps can help win the war on plastic
Australia uses around 250,000 tonnes of pallet wrap each year, a product mainly made with chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.
But one husband-and-wife team wants to change that with a process starting at the farm gate.
Mornington Peninsula-based Julia and Jordy Kay are behind what they say is the world's first compostable pallet wrap made from food waste.
The pallet wrap industry is big business. Most products that end up on the shelves of supermarkets and other bulk retailers have first been on a pallet encased in petroleum-based plastic.
"It's a more back-of-house piece of waste that people don't necessarily think about," Julia Kay said.
Rather than using fossil fuels, the duo's product, Great Wrap, is made with potato waste and a cocktail of compostable biopolymers.
It's produced in Australia, allowing the couple to keep a close eye on the manufacturing process.
"There are products available from places like China ... but it's harder to control quality and understand what's actually going into the wrap when you don't have oversight," Ms Kay said.
The former architect was inspired to launch the company after becoming aware the sustainable products she was sourcing travelled in petroleum-based plastic, which often ended up in landfill.
Horticulture producers are now using the wrap to get their goods to market.
"Our product can be composted and return carbon into soils," Ms Kay said.
"The goal for us has always been about replacing the pallet wraps in the supply chain of larger businesses."
To date, the couple has had to ship their raw material, processed potato waste, in from America and they acknowledge that process creates its own carbon footprint.
But they are hoping to establish a local biorefinery to handle unprocessed waste in order to make the wrap.
"French fry producers have these huge amounts of skins and glug that is left over from processing ... typically it's given away as feed, or left to rot in a paddock emitting huge amounts of methane," Ms Kay said.
The couple's ambition doesn't stop at potatoes.
"There's a vast amount of food waste, but there's some really other exciting kind of food stocks that we're looking into at the moment," Ms Kay said.
The company also makes compostable home cling wrap, which received a mixed review from consumer group Choice - feedback that has been taken on board for a reformulated product.
A spokesman for Cleanaway, Australia's biggest waste-management company, said much of the country's pallet wrap was already repurposed.
"It's great to see innovation to tackle waste, but the most desirable outcome is circularity where plastic is turned back into plastic," he said.
But Clean Up Australia head Pip Kiernan applauded any efforts to try to reduce plastic waste.
"The way we're currently producing and consuming plastics is not sustainable," she said.
"Without great innovation from smart Australians trying to solve these challenges ... we won't tackle these challenges effectively."
Last year, Great Wrap took on $24 million in funding, including from Woolworths' venture capital arm W23.
Since then, the couple and their 24 staff have been scaling up their business in order to service some of Australia's biggest brands. They hope their biorefinery will be up and running by 2024.