In a world grappling with the environmental consequences of plastic waste, one Ukrainian startup is making significant strides towards a sustainable solution. S.Lab, a company founded by Julia Bialetska and Eugene Tomilin, has developed a biodegradable alternative to polystyrene using mushrooms. Their innovative packaging material has garnered attention from high-profile customers and has the potential to revolutionize the industry.
Inspiration from a Devastating Scene
The journey towards creating mushroom-based polystyrene began when Julia Bialetska witnessed the devastating sight of plastic pollution on a Balinese beach. Motivated to take action, she and Tomilin started experimenting with a material that combined waste hemp fibers with mycelium, the network of fungal threads found in mushrooms.
Bialetska recalls, “We were doing surfing sessions there and one day all the beach and the ocean were covered with this huge amount of plastic… It was brought from the ocean. And this picture was so devastating, I still see it when I close my eyes.” This poignant moment became the catalyst for their mission to tackle throwaway plastic.
The Power of Mushroom Roots
The result of their experimentation is a natural replacement for expanded polystyrene. S.Lab’s packaging is made of mushroom roots and hemp stems, making it fully biodegradable and waterproof. Unlike conventional polystyrene, which can take hundreds of years to break down, S.Lab’s material decomposes within just 30 days.
Bialetska emphasizes the benefits of their solution, stating, “[Our material] is 100% biodegradable and after usage, it can just be thrown in with the food compost or even into the soil on the yard. There are currently no [commercial] alternatives like that.” The material retains the desirable properties of polystyrene, such as thermal insulation, waterproofing, strength, and fireproofing, while offering an eco-friendly alternative.
Despite the success and recognition they have achieved, the journey for S.Lab has not been without its challenges. They had established a small production facility in Ukraine and gained significant media exposure when the war broke out. Forced to abandon their work, they fled to Hungary and later Italy, before finding a new space in Spain through an accelerator program. The resilience and determination of the founders have been instrumental in their continued success.
Recognition and Future Aspirations
S.Lab’s groundbreaking work has caught the attention of major companies, including L’Oréal, Samsung, and Sony. These companies have recognized the potential of mushroom polystyrene for packaging applications, such as cushioning shampoo and conditioner packs or protecting fragile television sets.
The company’s achievements were further recognized when they won the prestigious Green Alley Award for circular economy innovation, which came with a cash prize of €25,000 (£21,748). The award also offers valuable introductions to potential clients and mentors.
Looking ahead, S.Lab aims to establish mini production facilities in small shipping containers, enabling them to manufacture the product closer to the market. This strategy reduces transport miles and costs, making their solution even more sustainable. Furthermore, they are developing their own technology to produce sustainable packaging at an industrial scale, with the ultimate goal of bringing jobs and production facilities back to Ukraine.
In the face of adversity and armed with their unique “superpower” as Ukrainians, Bialetska and Tomilin continue to drive forward with their mission. They aspire to bring their innovative mushroom-based packaging to the world, providing a sustainable and biodegradable alternative to traditional polystyrene.
If you’d like to read more about positive packaging changes, read this article about how eco-friendly Samsung packages can be turned into cat homes!
This article was inspired by an article from positive.news.
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