Singapore's Alterpacks turns food (and beer) waste into food containers

After producing beer, brewers are left with spent grains like barley and malt. For every hundred liters of beer, approximately 20 kg of grain 'waste' makes its way into animal feed, composting systems or landfills.

In Singapore, Alterpacks has been working on an alternative, upcycling that food-grade byproduct into food-safe containers and single-use utensils. Like wood pulp — the main ingredient in paper and cardboard — spent grain is rich in cellulose and can be used to produce sturdy, leak-proof containers. Alterpacks' take-out packaging can go from freezer to microwave and has received United States FDA and Singapore Food Agency certification for direct contact with food.

Alterpacks was launched at Business Innovation Generator, an incubator program at Singapore Management University's Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. The startup recently raised USD 1 million in pre-seed funding and is currently running pilots in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia.

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The fight against plastic pollution continues to pick up steam. In Canada, the first phase of a comprehensive single-use plastic ban — including takeout containers and cutlery — went into effect in December 2022, while the UK just announced that it will be introducing a ban of its own.

One part of the solution is finding sustainable alternatives with a lower environmental impact both when produced and discarded. Unlike a plastic spoon, which can stick around for hundreds of years, a biodegradable spoon or container by Alterpacks breaks down rapidly and won't contribute to long-term pollution. (Check out Plastic Free's newly launched materials platform for more inspiration.)

Next step: a globally recognized plastic-free certification program to label and promote products that are entirely free of plastic. Consumers prefer products and packaging that do less harm. So why not make it easier for them to do the right thing ;-)

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