In the last decade, there have been countless innovations in biobased materials - from mushroom leather to seaweed plastic. More often than not though, access to these breakthrough materials has remained limited to the big companies and brands that can make bulk orders, which leaves out individuals and groups of consumers who are interested and excited about innovations in this area.
Checkerspot, a materials innovation biotech company I have written about before, wants to change that. Their most recent product, the Pollinator™ Kit, aims to put renewable materials into the hands of anyone - big brands, small manufacturers, or individuals - who wants to design and build with biobased materials. To learn more about the product, I spoke to Mitch Heinrich, the lead designer at Checkerspot for the Pollinator Kit and the Founder of what for, a design studio focused on sustainable materials and renewable energy product development. Below are some key points from my Forbes article on Checkerspot:
Henrich emphasized that customer’s today want to be proud of what they own, and individual designers become “change makers and tastemakers.” The Pollinator Kit this makes it possible to for everyone to contribute to sustainability and ultimately, create meaningful changes.
The product can serve as a replacement for plastics. “Some of the things that we've played with in the lab and built out as prototypes are surf fins, skateboard wheels, phone cases, and we've even made some playable non-vinyl records using this material,” Heinrich told me. “If you have something on your desk, in your backpack or in your house that's made out of plastic, it's likely that a more renewable version could be made with this material.”
Checkerspot has a unique approach to product design. “A lot of materials that are billed as being more sustainable have focused on the end of life. Not a lot has been done or talked about for a product’s beginning of life,” Heinrich said. “That's where the Checkerspot material really has focused and shone. This material is made primarily out of an algae oil that is grown in fermenters using renewable feedstocks as opposed to the incumbent polyurethanes and other plastics that are generally made from natural gas or other petroleum products that are pumped out of the ground.”
Heinrich suggested that their product excels in longevity instead of recyclability. “I've seen numbers in the single digit percentages of recycled plastics that actually make their way back into technical nutrient streams. Plastic recycling, unfortunately, is not a meaningful thing at the moment,” he says. While the product is not recyclable, its longevity makes it more sustainable than plastics.
While certain professionals like designers or entrepreneurs may benefit more from the product, it is made to be accessible to everyone. “It's a very simple process of mixing two ingredients together in the right ratio. From that perspective, truly, nearly anybody can use this, follow the instructions and get good results,” Heinrich says.
While we often hear about the importance of recycling, we need to remember recycling items after they have been used is a suboptimal solution to deal with waste and pollution. Checkerspot provides us with another possibility to address these issues at their root, which also builds in product longevity and equal access.