Odds are, when you’re eating a handful sour cream & onion chips or french fries, you aren’t thinking about the mountain of potato peels that went to waste to produce those snacks. However, the landfill doesn’t have to be the final destination for these ‘tater peels, thanks to companies like Chip[s] Board. The London, UK-based startup is giving discarded potato peels a second life by turning them into a sustainable plastic material which can be used in a variety of fashion applications, from buttons to eyeglasses.
Chip[s] Board was born in 2017 when co-founders Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll became frustrated by the amount of material waste they saw in their work doing design and fabrication projects. Speaking on the phone earlier this week, Nicoll told me that oftentimes when it comes to materials design, the longevity of the materials themselves doesn’t usually come into consideration.
Inspired by the plastic made in the Toaster Project, in which a man decided to make a toaster from scratch (which took him one year), the co-founders developed a material made from potato starch. Their first product was an alternative to chipboard, which they ended up shelving because it wasn’t cost competitive enough.Their next product, called Parblex, is a plastic made from upcycled potato peelings mixed with other upcycled agricultural waste products, like olive wood flour. Chip[s] Board (the name is a nod to both their original product and chips, aka what the Brits call french fries) plans to sell the Parblex to a variety of partners, most of whom are in the fashion industry. They’re planning a soft launch of the Parblex next month. Initial partners include Cubitt’s eyewear, which uses the Parblex to make glasses frames.
Chip[s] Board is working with McCain Foods, a British frozen food company, to source its potato waste. Unlike the chipboard, Nicoll said that the Parblex is competitively priced with typical plastic.
Next up, Nicolls said Chip[s] Board’s team of five will look into the waste stream to find new materials to upcycle and diversify their product lineup. He also told me that the London startup raised a seed round last year, but wouldn’t disclose exact numbers.
While many companies are upcycling food waste products to make brand new foods — like beer made from stale bread or flour made from defatted sunflower seeds — there are also several notables startups turning food products into non-edible finished products. Agraloop transforms crop waste, like pineapple leaves and sugar cane bark, into sustainable fabrics. Aeropowder upcycles poultry feathers into eco-friendly insulated packaging, and Biobean turns used coffee grounds into fuel for fireplaces and industrial heating.
Like Chip[s] Board, these last two startups are based in London. Maybe the U.S. should take a page from their book and ramp up its efforts to find innovative ways to upcycle food waste to make both edible and inedible final products.