After being in COVID insulation for several months in Norway at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, Gaute Juliussen had the option of either going to London, where he had already lived for 16 years, or to come to Bermuda, where he briefly lived over 20 years ago, as part of the new Digital NOMAD program.
Ultimately, Mr. Juliussen decided to come to Bermuda and arrived on July 17, 2020, on the first flight from London to the island since the pandemic began. In addition to the great climate and lifestyle, Mr. Juliussen believes that Bermuda fits what his company Toraphene’s mission is, to get rid of plastic and replace it with a more sustainable material.
“ Recycling has shown not to really work, plus when it comes to thin, flexible film like grocery bags and products that we are initially going after, only five percent gets recycled around the world,” he explained. “ Additionally, plastic breaks down into toxic synthetic molecules, so taking plastic and creating more plastic will only create more pollution.”
Toraphene’s 100 percent compostable shopping bags currently have two main components; natural polymers (such as Polylactic Acid (PLA), cellulose and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)) and natural starches.
“ The great thing about PHA is that it composts and gets treated like fertilizer in the ocean and in nature,” Mr. Juliussen said. “ [Unlike plastic], if animals eat PHA materials, their stomach would break it down like any organic matter [and the animals would not be harmed].”
He has received A-Based patent approvals in the U.K., the U.S. and the E.U for Toraphene and has since filed four additional patents. According to him, the lab where the material is made in Scunthorpe, United Kingdom, has the capacity to make 1000 tons of material per year.
Toraphene introduced their shopping bags, which have been rated for a normal home compost environment in Europe, to a Bermudian environment.
“ We would like to see if the bags actually break down in a Bermudian environment and there is no reason to believe that it shouldn’t,” Mr. Juliussen said. “ The rating that the bags received in Europe was for home compostability for less than 12 months. 90 percent [of the material] breaks down after that time.”
The three main gasses that contribute to climate change are nitrogen oxide, methane and carbon dioxide. According to Mr. Juliussen, both methane and carbon dioxide can be used to make packaging material.
“ If we collect one kilo of methane and turn it into packaging material, it has the same effect on the climate, in terms of sequestering, than it would to take 88 kilos of carbon dioxide,” he explained. “
If we can collect methane gas from landfills, wastewater treatment plants,
petroleum production, etc. . . . and make packaging material from it, that would be a great way to sequester carbon. We hope to capture one-third of the world’s plastic market of 400 million tons. If we take that figure, we are then sequestering 10.1 billion tons of CO2(eq) [which is a great way to tackle the serious issue of climate change].”
In addition to a slight rebranding, Mr. Juliussen’s key focus for the company this year is to raise the next round of equity financing and expand more, using Bermuda and other Caribbean nations as a sort-of test market.
“ Bermuda has good purchasing power and is the most expensive country on earth, so to pay a little extra for your bag is not that big of a deal,” he said. “ It is a much bigger deal to get away from plastic on this island.”
Toraphene is also developing coffee and soft drink cups, which Mr. Juliussen also plans to introduce to the island’s market soon. High barrier products, such as pouches and sachets, are also in the works.
“ Most coffee cups [on the island right now] are paper lined with plastic, which is non-recyclable, so we can replace that material with something that has a biopolymer that is 100 percent compostable, but that is several months away,” he said.
To learn more about Toraphene, people can visit their website toraphene.com.
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Story by: Stefano Ausenda