In 2016, Ukrainian biochemist graduate, Julia Bialetska realised that she wanted to do something about throwaway plastic. Together with the M.G. Kholodny Institute of Botany in Kiev, she and her husband Eugene Tomilin began experimentally growing a packaging material made from mushroom roots and hemp stems. The result is fully biodegradable in just 30 days and waterproof and is a natural replacement for expanded polystyrene, a widely used packaging material that is difficult to decompose.
Due to the war, they had to leave the Ukraine and were given a chance to set up a new production space in Spain. The location change didn't hinder the success of their startup and cosmetics maker L'Oréal completed a first round of pilot packaging for their shampoo and conditioner packs with them. Other high profile tech companies have also been exploring the possibilities of using it for packaging fragile television sets.
This year, S.Lab won the circular economy award called the Green Alley Award, which on top of a financial prize also includes introductions to potential new clients and advisors.
In the production process, less than two litres of water is used for every kilogram produced, which is much less than the plastic-based alternative. They also aim to create small production facilities close to shipping containers where the product can be manufactured close to the market and will therefore bring transport costs down.
With the EU mandating that all packaging should be recyclable by 2030 they hope to attract more customers and in turn lower the costs to become the same as expanded polystyrene.