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Cruz Foam pitches an alternative to toxic styrofoam

A surfer rides a wave that's filled with plastic debris and waste
Image Credit: Cruz Foam

As cities around the world look to ban single use styrofoam, a toxic material used in millions of containers around the world, Cruz Foam believes it has a solution to the packaging industry's problem

Styrofoam is in everything from takeout containers to pharmaceutical packaging and it's ... very bad... for people and the planet.

Nearly 100 cities and towns in California -- including Los Angeles -- are banning single-use styrofoam containers, which means that companies wanting to ship products into the golden state need to find an alternative. Quickly.

That's where Cruz Foam comes in.

Founded in 2017 by John Felts and Marco Rolandi and backed by celebrities including Ashton Kutcher and Leonardo DiCaprio, Cruz uses the organic materials from agricultural waste and shrimp shells to make a styrofoam replacement that's biodegradable, recyclable, and even safe for animals to eat.

And, unlike many startups that have a technology but not a lot of production capacity, Cruz Foam just announced a manufacturing deal with a half-billion dollar business in the packaging industry, Atlantic Packaging.

The deal should go a long way to ensure that Cruz can meet demand for its styrofoam replacement.

Just how bad is styrofoam? Well, The puffed plastic can break down easily into microplastics that pollute waterways and oceans, it takes about 500 years to degrade, and as it does, the chemicals that are used to make it can leach into groundwater and soil.

That's why Cruz Foam's alternatives and others coming from startups like Vericool and Ecovative are compelling. They're offering businesses a chance to ditch the chemicals and find natural solutions that aren't toxic.

Cruz Foam's sustainable packaging shown as a padded envelopes, cooling boxes, foam rolls, and packing material.
Image Credit: Cruz Foam

These new products can slot into the existing packaging options for envelopes, food storage, and even packing materials for refrigerators and other appliances.

What's more, these new materials are increasingly cost competitive with existing supplies given spiking prices for the fossil fuels needed to make these plastics.

For Felts and Rolandi, two material scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a shared love of nature and surfing, Cruz Foam represented a way to use their skills and develop technology that would be good for the planet and for people.

They started with a product close to their hearts -- a foam core that could replace the plastic inside a surfboard. But after two years of work, they began working on perhaps the most diametrically opposed industry to surfing -- packaging.

Now Cruz has a line of foam and paper wraps that can replace bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts; a foam padded mailer; foam coolers to store food and medicine; and foam padding to protect furniture and appliances.

What's more, all of these foam products either dissolve in warm water or can be recycled at the curb. It's also safe for animals to eat.

Finally, Cruz Foam's plastic replacement is a great way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The company estimates that over the next three years it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 53,000 tonnes (or the equivalent of taking 12,000 cars off of the road).

“There are two operating principles that guide our approach to developing Cruz Foam products: listen to the needs of our customers and follow nature to find the answers,” said Felts in a statement. “We’ve seen ever-increasing demand from the world’s biggest brands for sustainable protective packaging that offers high technical performance and is earth-friendly. It would be difficult to overstate how profoundly we can change the current state of the environment through the mainstream adoption of these solutions.”

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