Author profile picture

Plastic, plastic, and more plastic. To embrace a green future, we must break free from the overwhelming tide of plastic packaging. Julia Bialetska, with her company S.Lab, has developed a biodegradable alternative. Recently, she won a prestigious award at the summit of the European Innovation Council. We were in Brussels, and had the opportunity to interview Bialetska.

Why you need to know this:

Everyone knows: plastic is bad for the planet. Biodegradable alternatives will ensure a healthy future.

We’d like to phrase it more eloquently, but the numbers don’t lie. Each person in Europe contributes 34.5 kilograms of plastic packaging to the ever-growing mountain yearly. For example, in the Netherlands, Red Bull has consistently topped the charts for the highest amount of plastic packaging found in nature. Meanwhile, international research has highlighted Coca-Cola products as the most widespread in the environment.

It’s high time for a change if we want to have a livable world in the future. Using such polluting packaging will significantly increase CO₂ emissions and further strain our water and land resources.

Bialetska, the founder and CEO of S.Lab, is from Ukraine and couldn’t be more aware of this. Founded in 2021, the company is focused on producing biodegradable packaging from two plant components: agricultural waste and mushroom roots. Within a month, the packaging fully composts, all one needs to do is just break the packaging into two or more parts.

Recently, Bialetska received recognition for her work. She won the Women Leadership category at the recent European Prize for Women Innovators, awarded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

Scaling up

With the award in hand, she tells about the state of her company. “We are currently in the process of scaling up. Having completed numerous tests and engaged with early adopters, we have finalized and patented our technology and are in the construction phase within our production facilities.” S.Lab will establish an automated production line capable of manufacturing sustainable packaging on an industrial scale. “This milestone marks a significant step forward for us, and we expect to finish it by the end of April. Each automated production line, that we plan to fit into a 12-meter container, will be able to produce up to 15.000 packaging units a month.” 

But even after April, plenty of work remains to be done. Because then, it’s time to make sure the production line fits snugly into those big shipping containers you see on cargo ships. “We’ll set up the entire process inside these containers and then deliver them to our customers’ facilities. That way, they can produce their own packaging right on-site instead of us sending it to them. It helps make our solution more accessible and even more sustainable”, Bialetska explains.

The costs

But what about the costs? The biodegradable packaging may cost around 20-40 percent more than polystyrene: a widely used synthetic polymer. “Our aim is to reduce this price gap in the upcoming years.” The company wants to achieve this through decentralizing manufacturing, as explained above. Despite the packaging being slightly more expensive than traditional options, S.Lab anticipates acquiring many new customers in the future. “A lot of customers are willing to invest a little extra for sustainability, given the rise of environmental regulations worldwide and consumer demand for green alternatives.”

15 billion kilograms

There’s so much work to be done in the present moment, leaving little room for long daydreams about the future, the founder smiles. Still, she clearly sees where she wants her company to be five years from now. “We’re determined to replace 50 percent of all the polystyrene currently used for packaging, totaling 15 billion kilograms. I know, it’s an ambitious goal, but we are going for it.”

What about the Netherlands?

Julia Bialetska concludes by pointing out that S.Lab is not alone in its mission for sustainable packaging. In the Netherlands, too, there are numerous startups embarking on similar green initiatives.

For instance, packaging company from Heerewaarden also utilizes mycelium, the same mushroom used by S.Lab for its packaging. Loop Biotech from Delft uses the mushroom to create a coffin that biodegrades in just 45 days.