Is there a good alternative to plastic out there? BlueCitizen Lori Goff from Outlander Materials transforms the waste stream of beer brewer VET & LAZY into ‘UnPlastic’; an alternative for single use plastics. UnPlastic is functional, compostable and vegan friendly. But most importantly – it is a circular product and will never break down into micro or nanoplastics.
The idea was born a few years ago when Lori received a beer brewing kit as a birthday gift. “I was brewing beer in my kitchen and started to take a more serious look at the amount of waste produced during the beer brewing process. I thought: there’s definitely cool stuff I can make out of this.”
From beer to UnPlastic
And so she did. She settled in BlueCity Lab, started experimenting and soon got in touch with VET & LAZY. “To create one liter of beer you need seven liters of fresh water.” she states. The remaining six liters, referred to as brewery effluent, is normally being wasted. But not on Lori’s watch. “I use the waste stream that is produced during the beer brewing process. With biotechnology, as a result, we produce a material that can be developed into a non-plastic that can function as a new alternative to plastics.”
The first thing Lori created with this new material were candy wrappers, but it can be used to replace multiple types of single use plastics. “There are different ways of processing the brewery effluent and there are a lot of variables I can change that will affect the resulting material. This makes the material suitable for multiple applications.” she says.
In addition to this, UnPlastic has multiple other advantages that could possibly make this material the ultimate alternative to single use plastics. It’s compostable, vegan, transparent and it’s possible to add flavours or scents if desired.
From Nebraska to Rotterdam
It’s no surprise that an innovative idea like this precisely popped into Lori’s head. “I’ve always been very environmentally focused,” she explains, “I used to watch this cartoon on TV when I was a kid called Captain Planet. It’s about a superhero who saves the environment time and time again. This image stuck with me, even now.”
She decided to pursue a degree in biotechnology. “I went into biotech because I wanted to have the scientific background to bring environmental projects to fruition and give waste a functional use again.” After graduation, Lori moved from Nebraska (United States) to the Netherlands, and not long after she found herself brewing beer in the kitchen we started this story with.
From there, the road to BlueCity Lab was easy. It was a matter of one call that ensured Lori of her own Lab space. Which she is very grateful for: “BlueCity Lab is a living environment of everything I’ve always wanted. It’s about circularity, minimising waste and creating functional startups.” she says, “It’s about providing solutions to existing problems, which is exactly what I want to do.”
Hitting the shelves
When you’re reading this you might wonder why it is you haven’t found UnPlastic in your local supermarket yet. “I’m currently working on a business case and talking to various companies about projects and funding,” Lori explains, “Our goal is that in about 2 and a half years there will be 3 to 4 items on the supermarket shelves wrapped in UnPlastic!”
And Lori’s mission doesn’t end there. She hopes to provide a solution to the plastic waste problem without having to eliminate packaging all together. “We do need packaging,” she states, “because food travels from one place to another and without the protection of packaging, we would have a lot more food waste. To me it just doesn’t make sense that we have food that only lasts for a few moments that is wrapped in plastic that lasts an eternity.” And thus, Lori concludes: “I hope that one day UnPlastic will replace single use plastics in the supermarket, from dry goods like pasta and rice to the wrappers for cookies, candy and stroopwaffels!”
Text: Manon Dijkhuizen, photography: Sophie de Vos