by Lynne Myers
“There's going to be a lot more change and a bio-revolution is really going to take off.”
To the detriment of our environment, plastic seems to have infiltrated every part of our lives. From the lid that covers our takeaway coffee to the bags we carry our groceries in, plastic pollution has become one of the biggest global concerns. This is where MakeGrowLab comes in. Founded by Roza Janusz and Josh Brito, the recently established company is looking to nature to grow organic and circular materials.
After a few years of trial and error, the duo created SCOBY: an edible material grown from biowaste that can be composted once you’re finished using it. Designed to package foods, cosmetics and even clothes, the versatile material offers a circular and sustainable alternative to plastic.
Lynne Myers: Can you explain how the SCOBY packaging is grown?
MakeGrowLab: The first step is to have your resource, which is what you're going to turn into the material. And the resource that we've chosen is food waste. This includes roots, fruits or vegetables from the food industry. We take this and basically break it down. We take certain nutrients and feed them to a set of microbes, and these micro-organisms need this food source to survive and use it to create a protective barrier. This protective barrier is what they use to protect their food and themselves from UV rays. And this layer that they make is the material. So, they make a thin layer of cellulose and that's what we call SCOBY packaging.
LM: Can the SCOBY packaging material be made from any food waste?
MGL: There are certain food and beverages that work better than others but the beauty of this kind of technology is that you have the ability to do it with many different foods. As long as it is biomass we can make material from it.
SCOBY packaging by MakeGrowLab
LM: How long can the packaging be used for? Does it have a specific shelf life?
MGL: It all depends on what you're using it for. If you're just using it as a wrap to cover something up, it can last a very long time. However, if it's wrapping something fresh, for example half-cut vegetables, then you would probably use it just once.
LM: With growing awareness of the environmental damage caused by disposable plastics, are you witnessing greater demand for a sustainable product like this?
MGL: Definitely. With the help of social media, within the last few years people are becoming more aware of climate change and want to get rid of plastic packaging. The demand is there and companies now have a lot of pressure to change their packaging. I think right now a lot of people are asking for better and more sustainable materials.
SCOBY packaging by MakeGrowLab
LM: What materials or products are you currently working on?
MGL: We're in the early stages where we're focusing more on research and development. In the materials industry it takes many years of research before you can introduce something to the market. So, we're more in that stage right now but we are working with companies and once the current COVID-19 lockdown is over you'll definitely be seeing more of our products with other companies.
In addition to the SCOBY packaging, MakeGrowLab is also developing Transleather: a 100% plastic-free and vegan leather alternative.
LM: Tell us a little about the Transleather material you’re developing?
MGL: The Transleather is a bit different to the SCOBY packaging because this material is much thicker and stronger. It's incredible because you can see through it but at the same time it's very strong. If you weren't looking at what you were touching you would think it was a piece of leather.
It's made in a similar way to SCOBY because of the use of microbes. Of course, the properties are a little bit different, but microbes are the thing that they have in common.
Roza Janusz and Josh Brito, founders of MakeGrowLab
LM: Where do you envision the Transleather being used?
MGL: The Transleather is more of a research and development project. We're still working on it but it would be used more in the fashion industry and interior design – basically anywhere that you would typically see leather. It's not waterproof in its raw form but like any material you can coat it with whatever you want, but the problem with that is that most leather is coated with chemicals that are harmful to the environment. That's the thing that people need to understand and I think a lot of people are now realizing that you need to sacrifice something if you want to be environmentally friendly. It’s not always possible to have all these convenient characteristics that we all love. However, we're always working on ways to coat it in some kind of natural resin or wax.
LM: Finally, considering these unprecedented times, do you see any positives to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for MakeGrowLab and sustainable design in general?
MGL: First off, once everything starts going back to normal, the sad thing is that there's going to be a huge push and restart in industrial production, especially in petroleum-based products. There's a lot more pollution coming our way unfortunately, that's how countries restart. That's the sad part. But the good thing is that people and many businesses are going to be starting up during this pandemic. And of course, there were a lot of companies that were trying to start up before this. So once it goes back to normal, the demand is going to be there again and people are going to be trying to reach out and say ‘okay, when can we have the material, we want to launch as soon as possible.’ I think we’re going to have many fun projects coming our way. There's going to be a lot more change and a bio-revolution is really going to take off.
For us, the positive thing about this pandemic is that we actually get time to focus more on our research and development. We can take our time with it now. Before it always felt like there was pressure or rush, and now we get to just relax and focus more.
Click here to explore the work and research of MakeGrowLab.