Author Archives: Dave Carr

Vesta’s Christmas Update

Season’s greetings from Vesta:

We’ve gone quite a while without a blog, but as things start to calm down after a frantic Q4, it feels like sensible time to consider and reflect on the last twelve months. It is sometimes hard to imagine that at this time last year, we had just kicked off our accelerator with Startupbootcamp, we only had one working Vesta and our platform and application existed far more in our imaginations than on our GitHub.

So what have we done in the last twelve months?

  • We finished Startupbootcamp and presented Vesta to an audience of more than 400
  • We started our first paid trials in the UK, Norway and Brazil
  • We built a the first commercially viable version of the full solution AND this was with most of the team working evenings and weekends only!
  • We presented at events in London, Birmingham, Hamburg and Bologna and were able to see the market for sustainable and functional packaging take shape
  • We built dozens of Vestas and now have a hinged-lid, spray, pump and pour configurations designed, built and tested. This has involved more hours of configuration, testing and careful manufacture than any of us could have expected, and our prototype models are a real testament to the skill and dedication of our engineering team
  • We have partnered with our friends at NEW consulting and made huge strides in Scandinavia as a result
  • We have deployed our application, our client portal and our amazing new website (look at the website, I’m not kidding, it’s awesome)

It’s not all achievements either. Looking back fondly on a year well spent is very satisfying, but a rose-tinted view won’t serve that well for next year. We have made loads of mistakes, got things wrong, ordered the wrong components, forgot to update a .PHP call, not planned enough time to test things properly and on one notable occasion, completely ignored that Android apps don’t like connecting to Wi-Fi networks with no internet connection (this doesn’t sound that bad, but it was a nightmare!!).

Simple mistakes are easy though. You look at what you did, figure out what went wrong, and you try not to do it again. The biggest challenge of the year was more psychological – how do you stay positive in the face of challenges, how do you listen to the subconscious voice telling you that this whole exercise is doomed to fail, how do you work with no budget and try to balance life, work and an outlandish dream project for a distributed team of people with amazing skills and lots of other things on their minds beside Vesta? Three things have, just, kept me on course this year:

  • Tremendous support from my business partners, my friends and family and my network. We have had so much great support and even the smallest vote of confidence is more valuable than I’d ever have expected before we started.
  • Belief in what we’re doing. The world has become aware that we are doing damage to our environment in a way that isn’t going to be ok or work itself out. People are looking to take action and I think we’ll see disruption to every industry as we all start to think more about how what we do changes the world around us.
  • As stressful as this is – and it really is – this is a different kind of stress. I, and the whole team at Vesta actually care if this works. We’ll be exultant if it does and devastated if we fail. However safe and secure what were doing before was, it didn’t matter like this.

And for next year?

  • We hope to close our funding round and bring the team on full time (stay tuned on this one)
  • We have a LOAD of new development work to do to make our service even better
  • We are looking forward to turning small trials into proper commercial roll outs
  • We’re looking forward to meeting new companies as clients and partners and to finding even more use cases for Vesta packaging all over the world

It has been a breathless, exhausting and exhilarating twelve months. I can scarcely imagine what I’ll be writing at this time next year.

Happy Christmas to all from Vesta!!

Tom

Smart Packaging Conference 2019

There’s more than one kind of smart, but the key to sustainability in packaging is value. This week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Smart Packaging 2019 conference in Hamburg. This was thanks to the kind people at AMI, following an introduction by Ophelie Gourdou at Cairn Consulting. It was an engaging and well-attended conference, with an innovative format including a mini-showcase at the end of day one. This was a great way to keep the audience actively engaged when they had half an eye on the cocktail reception.

I confess I did not know what to expect. We have researched potential competitors, but from years as an analyst, I know that active engagement is really the only way to understand what’s going on under the skin of an industry, and this was our first real chance to spend some time talking to others who are innovating.

I came back with two main conclusions.

Firstly, the smarts going into smart packaging are INCREDIBLY varied. Everything from advanced and highly flexible tracking and provenance services, to connected devices, to chemical engineering that stops food from spoiling (on a small sticky label no less!). I was pleased to present the Vesta solution following an industry introduction from Tim Paridaens of Delloite. One of his slides showed a conceptual model of automated refill ordering packaging of exactly the kind Vesta makes, which is a reassuring sign that the solution we’ve been building for 18 months is beginning to enter the popular consciousness.

The second is broader, but covers something fundamental. There is a clear paradigm shift around packaging, from a view that cost is absolute and must be reduced, to an understanding that cost and value can be balanced. It’s this which gives me great hope that the economic philosophy behind Vesta’s mission – that we don’t throw away things we value– is on a solid footing. By making the vehicles in which our products move and function an essential part of the value of the products themselves, we should start to see a rapid move away from single use disposable behaviours. This is cause for hope.

Thanks to all at AMI for a thought-provoking couple of days!

How Packaging Innovation is Helping Tackle the Plastic Problem

We founded Vesta in October 2017 on the basis that we believe that technology can be built into packaging to help remove the need for single-use plastic.

Since then, global awareness and action relating to the plastic problem has expanded beyond anything we could have imagined. The dominant users of packaging; manufacturers and retailers, have started to change their businesses in more dramatic ways than even we could have hoped. We’ve been watching closely over the last 12 months, and I’ll attempt to summarise some of it here.

I’ve identified four main categories of innovation, though this is not exhaustive and there are several innovations that cut across categories:

New materials

There has been enormous growth in the availability of short life packaging, including plant-based options (seaweed is looking promising). The ability to produce plastic-like packaging from sustainable sources that are completely bio-degradable is vastly encouraging, and the potential is there to do so at scale.

Upside – potential long-term large-scale solution, producing non harmful plastics. What’s not to like!

Issues – lifetime of bio-plastics, carbon costs of production, ability to scale, challenges to bio-diversity

Reuse

This year, and to great fanfare, Terracycle launched Loop, the first e-Commerce platform based on the ability to return packaging for cleaning and reuse. We at Vesta have already raised our concerns over the viability of Loop and I won’t do so again here, but if nothing else, it should be loudly applauded for its originality and the bold attempt to change consumer behaviour.

Upside –  increasing the number of uses of a plastic package has the potential to ENORMOUSLY reduce the amount of plastic we use overall. Put it this way – use the same package 10 times cuts plastic use 90%.

Issues – economics of pickup, increased demand on consumers, lack of convenience

Self-refill

Waitrose in the UK, along with a whole variety of others have started using the kind of refill stations we have only previously seen in health food shops. Ecover have also grown the availability of in store refilling stations.

Upside – similar to reuse. Plastic is not, in itself, the problem. It is that we misuse it.

Issues – taking large numbers of empty containers to the shop each time does not feel like a mass market sustainable solution. I believe a lot of us would like to do this, but it asks a lot of consumers.

IoT

Vesta obviously fits into this category, where connected packaging is used to help manage supplies. To date, we are the only packaging company we’re aware of that combine IoT technology with the drive to eliminate the requirement for single-use plastic. However there are other connected device companies out there using RFID and other tech primarily for provenance and tracking (if you are using IoT for packaging, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!).

Upside  – the meeting of sustainable reusable solutions with a convenient consumer proposition could mean self-refill achieved entirely in the home.

Issues – this is a new technology approach, so consumers will have to be willing to adopt new behaviour. Short-life refill packaging should close the loop allowing for manufacturers to avoid single use plastic all together, but we’ll need to make sure its impact is minimal. It should not be a surprise that we at Vesta think this is the way to go, but we are not complacent on the amount of work that needs doing to yield the benefits.

I am really excited by the number of companies making big strides in this area (including those we’re working with!). Honourable mentions also go to Iceland and Morrisons for both taking major initiatives to cut their plastic use.

However, it’s not all good news. Amazon are something of a laggard when it comes to a sustainable approach to packaging, and this week’s news that their latest envelopes are not even recyclable comes as a massive disappointment. We know now that in most markets, a sustainable approach to packaging is so popular with consumers that it comes with a price premium. It seems likely therefore that companies unwilling to make changes to help the environment will suffer correspondingly.

Vesta’s 6 Month Roundup

Since finishing the IOT StartUp Bootcamp in January, it’s been an exciting and whirlwind six months for Vesta. The bootcamp wrapped-up in style, with CEO Tom Mowat giving his pitch presentation to a packed audience at the IMAX in Kensington. And we haven’t looked back.

As the pressure mounts on companies to cut single-use plastic from their supply chains, Vesta’s combination of analytics and smart packaging gives them the tools to streamline fulfilment, and to provide refills in genuinely biodegradable packaging.

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just shipped our most recent commercial prototype to a global corporation dedicated to incorporating IOT-driven smart solutions into healthcare. We continue to be developing products for various FMCG groups, and are delighted to have branched into Femtech – a rapidly growing sector that brings all the functionality of IOT to feminine care essentials.

In March, Tom held a seminar with the bright young things at the Holt Business School London, who came up wth some brilliant ideas about marketing and use cases for Vesta.

In May, we were delighted to win the opportunity to have a stand at the SUBCON show at the NEC, and Tom and our COO Dave Carr appeared there last week meeting new customers and some potential new partners and suppliers to boot.

To cap it all, we’ll be featured in the July 2019 issue of the brilliant Startups Magazine. Read the article here

The future’s looking bright, and we’d love to hear from potential partners who want to use IOT enabled devices to improve analytics, fulfilment, and – vitally – environmental credentials.

Happy summer everyone!

A Bold Pledge

In the wake of the UK government’s commitment to work towards plastic-free isles in stores, one of Britain’s supermarket chains has gone one better; it has set itself the target of becoming wholly plastic free within five years.

Citing advances in technology, Iceland’s CEO told The Guardian ‘there really is no excuse any more for excessive packaging that creates needless waste and damages our environment’. The company’s first step was to remove plastic straws from its own brand range of products, and all new food ranges will feature paper-based food trays.

This is a welcome development, especially in the wake of the ‘one million tonnes’ revelation, but it is essential that domestic consumers change their habits too.

In the case of too many products—particularly domestic cleaning agents— single-use plastic containers remain the only purchase option. The onus is then placed on the consumer and the local authority to dispose of these, in a waste paradigm that has led to the current crisis of plastic in our oceans.
To combat this effectively, householders need easy affordable solutions which fit into busy lives.

Vesta Smart Packaging represents a paradigm shift. Using the Internet of Things, Vesta imbeds refillable solutions into homes, offering an integrated delivery system and environmentally sound alternative to one-use plastics.
Vesta knows when cleaning products are running low, and delivers to refillable containers, combining peace of mind, affordability and environmentally sustainability.

 

Iceland supermarket vows to eliminate plastic on all own-branded products

Iceland supermarket vows to eliminate plastic on all own-branded products

Retailer outlines five-year aim to replace all plastic packaging with trays made of paper and pulp

Source: www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/15/iceland-vows-to-eliminate-plastic-on-all-own-branded-products

UK Supermarkets 1 million tons of plastic per year

In a damning expose, The Guardian has revealed that Britain͛s leading supermarkets ͚create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year͛. And, more worryingly, the paper suggests that the firms go to elaborate lengths to hide

the extent of their plastic footprint. What is clear is that their use of contractual loopholes to obfuscate the scale of plastic use prevents clear calls for change. Supermarkets were the first to be obliged to charge for plastic bags, and supermarket delivery services are often touted as a green option. However, until the products they supply are encased in less single-use plastic, they will continue to act as huge catalysts for pollution.

In the face of this, startups are setting themselves the challenge to combat the plastic epidemic. And it͛s working. A paradigm shift is coming from the world of smart refillables—smart containers can be integrated seamlessly into homes and refilled with the goods we use the most.

For the first time, the Internet of Things allows household goods to order themselves, and to be delivered in a refillable and sustainable way. Of course, Supermarkets could get in on this too, but they first need to face up to the dangers of feeding the nation͛s plastic addiction.

Nearly 1m tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging

Nearly 1m tonnes every year: supermarkets shamed for plastic packaging

Exclusive: Guardian investigation unwraps truth about supermarket plastics after big brands refuse to divulge packaging secrets

Source: www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/17/nearly-1m-tonnes-every-year-supermarkets-shamed-for-plastic-packaging

 

Bioplastics and Vesta Smart Packaging

At Vesta Smart Packaging, we strive to significantly reduce plastic pollution and, by extension, carbon emissions used in the life cycle of one of our containers, or Vestas. It is also important that our containers be recyclable and preferable that they be made from recycled, recyclable and sustainable materials. However, choosing the materials for our refillable and reusable containers has been a more complex exercise than we had first envisioned. On first glance, bioplastics seemed to be the answers to our problems because it is a plastic derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats, vegetable oils, corn starch, or microbiota (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioplastic).

With a current-life of 2 years, our Vestas already show that we can reduce the number of plastic bottles containers over 2 years per product by at least 23. They can be reused after the 2 year period if the plastic container has not sustained too much damage, as we can simply steam clean them, replace their batteries and re-deploy them. However, not all of them will be re-usable and at some point, all of our Vestas will need to be recycled.

Bearing this in mind, we decided to investigate using bio-plastics as the building material for our product. The main considerations for us when choosing a material were:

  1.  Strength
  2. Recyclability
  3. Bio-degradability
  4. Carbon Footprint

1. Strength

Bioplastics are generally not as strong as regular plastics. Currently, the only known way to increase their strength is to mix them with regular plastics – which we would need as it is intended to be used multiple times over a 2 year period. Though this might be better than pure plastic, it can also reduce the recyclability of the plastic and how bio-degradable it is, whilst increasing the cost. These are also important factors in choosing the correct material for our containers. There is currently research being conducted into including cellulose fibres or particles in bio-plastics to increase its strength, which will be watching closely. (see http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bm050897y)

2. Recyclability

Recyclability varies considerably with bioplastics. However, those bioplastics that are recyclable cannot be recycled with regular plastics. They require a new stream of recycling, which most recycling plants do not have. A method would have to be developed to separate bio-plastics from regular plastics to make bioplastic recycling on a large scale viable. There is also some concern that bioplastics would contaminate normal plastic recycling (https://waste-management-world.com/a/napcor-concerned-over-pla-contamination-of-pet-stream), increasing the cost and decreasing the effectiveness of plastics recycling. So in short, while many bioplastics are theoretically recyclable, very few places are equipped to process them.

3. Bio-degradability

If a bottle cannot be recycled, it is important that it is bio-degradable. Being made from bio-plastics does not automatically make a bottle recyclable or biodegradable, it just means that the plastic has come biological sources rather than fossil fuels. For example, CocaCola’s PlantBottle, which is made from bio-plastics cannot be composted and does not bio-degrade because it has the same chemical structure as a plastic made from oil (https://www.alternet.org/story/151543/compostable_or_recyclable_why_bioplastics_are_causing_an_environmental_headache). The more bio-degradable a plastic is, the weaker it tends to be. This means they might be more suited for plastic packaging of items such as fruit, or potato chips and don’t lend themselves to tough, robust packaging like that produced by Vesta Smart Packaging. The bio-degradability of many of these bioplastics is also questionable. Many require special high-temperature composting plants and won’t biodegrade in a domestic compost heap.

4. Carbon Footprint

David Grewell of Iowa State University (http://dgrewell.public.iastate.edu/research/bioplastics/cost_comparison.html) has conducted some research on the life-cycles of bio-plastics and has found that many types of bioplastic have a higher carbon footprint throughout their life than regular plastic bottles. See the video below for a more detailed analysis of this problem

Having considered these factors, we believe that bioplastic technology is not ready to be deployed for Vesta Smart Packaging….YET. However, we believe that as the technology is developed and problems are solved we will be able to move to bioplastics. The technology is constantly being researched and in time we believe that bioplastics will become stronger, more recyclable and more bio-degradable. Bioplastics are the future, but that future is not quite with us.

Useful Sources

Recycling Mystery: Bioplastic

http://www.explainthatstuff.com/bioplastics.html

http://green-plastics.net/posts/74/qaa-starch-plastic-tensile-strength/

https://www.alternet.org/story/151543/compostable_or_recyclable_why_bioplastics_are_causing_an_environmental_headache

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/23/biodegradable-plastic-false-solution-for-ocean-waste-problem

http://dgrewell.public.iastate.edu/research/bioplastics/cost_comparison.html

UK faces build-up of plastic waste

The world’s plastic epidemic is often portrayed as a far-flung problem – one which might cause a bit of unsightly litter on motorway sidings, but not one that could seriously affect our daily lives.

But this could be about to change.

It is a little-known fact that Britain has been selling rubbish to China, paying to pass the buck of our excess garbage, and the proof of our national unsustainability.

According to the BBC, ‘Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped’.

That’s right. With China no longer willing to accept the waste – in a bid to clean up its own outlook – we as a nation will be forced to confront our throw-away, one-use culture, and the staggering quantity of rubbish that this generates.

The solution is for business, homes and manufacturers to be proactive, and to take this opportunity to adopt smart, refillable solutions for the health—not just of the planet—but of the nation.

UK faces build-up of plastic waste

UK faces build-up of plastic waste

UK does not have capacity to deal with extra plastic waste after a Chinese import ban, says industry group.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42455378

New Year’s Resolutions for a Healthy World

With Greenpeace reporting that the equivalent of a truck load of plastic is dumped in the sea every minute, things are looking bad for our environment.

But we mustn’t despair.

You don’t have to live in an eco-home or install solar panels to make a difference. There are hundreds of small daily things that everyone can do, which really add up to curb the plastic epidemic. Here are just a few:

  • Take your own bags to the shops, and don’t buy food which comes in multiple layers of packaging. Resist the urge to put individual fruits and vegetables in their own bags. Better still, write to the supermarkets and urge them to use less.
  • Try out a grocery delivery service. No longer the preserve of the middle-classes, these services are competitive, nationwide, and hugely sustainable. The deliveries are fixed (great for the environment), the boxes are recycled, and the produce is seasonal and organic. What could be better?
  • Stop buying bottled water. Just stop. Get a flask. Reuse an old bottle. Fill it up from the tap. If everyone did this, the world would be an instantly less plastic-filled place.
  • Reject the offer of a straw. On a night out, at the cinema, wherever. Straws are the ultimate one-use item, and even more pernicious because no one thinks about them. G&T tastes better straight from the glass anyway. 
  • Adopt the re-usable coffee cup. The cups aren’t great for the environment, but the plastic lids are a disaster. Many companies now offer reusable coffee cups – even the high street coffee shops themselves – and many offer a discount on your coffee if you have one. Winner!

2018 has the potential to be a fantastic year, one in which we move towards sustainability and the elimination of single-use plastics.

Happy New Year from Vesta!

 

We Are All Drinking Plastics

We all know that plastic is disastrous for the environment, but it is now being revealed that plastics are making their way into our bodies.

We’re consuming plastic every day in our drinking water.

A disturbing report from Orb demonstrates that ‘tap water samples in cities on five continents is contaminated with microscopic plastic fibers. Plastic is pouring out of faucets from New York to New Delhi. Scientists say they don’t know how these fibers reach household taps, or what their health risks might be, but experts suspect plastic fibers transfer toxic chemicals when consumed by humans’.

More than 40% of our plastic containers are single-use, but ‘plastic persists in the environment for centuries’. It is perhaps no wonder that plastics are making their way into our food chain, but what is striking it the worldwide scale of the problem:

‘The contamination defies geography: The number of fibers found in a sample of tap water from the Trump Grill, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, was equal to that found in samples from Beirut. Orb also found plastic in bottled water, and in homes that use reverse-osmosis filters. 83 percent of samples worldwide tested positive for microscopic plastic fibers.’

The government’s recent targeting of single-use plastics could not be more timely, but the revelation that microscopic man-made fibres are now getting into our bodies should encourage us all to resist single-use, and find refillable reusable solutions.

https://www.plasticoceans.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Orb-Media-Plastics-Story-Toolkit.pdf