Q&A: Going bio helps says bye bye to plastic waste

This week we chat to John Mancarella, co-founder – alongside Dr Ross Headifen – of Biogone. The enterprise designs and delivers cost-effective biodegradable products that reduce the medium- and long-term plastic footprint.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you setting up Biogone?

JM: Initially these products were developed for us to use in-house, but we figured there must be other companies wanting to make a difference and perhaps we could approach some of our existing customers and suppliers. So, after developing a range of landfill-biodegradable products for the groundwater and soil industry between 2012 and 2014, we realised we could not really ship a pallet of biodegradable tubing to a customer wrapped in non-biodegradable stretch film and packing tape. We developed our own landfill-biodegradable stretch film and soon other products for warehouse packing followed.

From there the Biogone range grew as we developed the dog waste bags, garbage bags, and cling wrap for food.

ISB: As established entrepreneurs, how was the experience for you and Ross setting up Biogone different from your previous venture?

JM: Biogone is really a branding for a suite of products, but each product takes a lot of time with R&D and independent testing before we actually have stock available to sell. This could be many months and even years with some products. With previous ventures there was not so much R&D and testing involved.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

JM: Initially it was convincing people why they should make a change and how our technology is different to others. A few years back the plastic waste issue was not really a big topic or getting much publicity, but the “China Sword” triggering a recycling emergency and the ABC’s War on Waste program really highlighted the issue and certainly has more people thinking out reducing their plastic footprint and wanting to make a change.

ISB: What makes your products stand out from other biodegradable products in the market?

JM: As well as being biodegradable in a landfill, our products are also able to be recycled with other soft plastics. This is fundamentally different

to other technologies that, unfortunately, cannot readily be recycled. The landfill-biodegradable products are also generally stronger and perform just like a non-bio equivalent, whereas other technologies may have a reduced shelf life or weaker performance.

All our products are designed to biodegrade in a landfill where conditions will most likely be anaerobic (no oxygen). We believe that disposable plastic should biodegrade in the place it will most likely end up in the long run. Other technologies such as degradable or oxo-degradable simply make the plastic fragment into smaller pieces. So, you end up with thousands of tiny pieces of plastic rather than one large one, but it doesn’t really biodegrade.

Another popular technology is compostable which is a biological process that requires the compost facility to have high oxygen, moisture and high temperature. This can only be achieved at a commercial compost facility, and there isn’t enough infrastructure in place to take the used plastic there. So, it ends up going to a landfill where the conditions are not suited and the plastic doesn’t biodegrade.

Home compostable is a relative new technology we have embraced, and we think is quite exciting. It shows good biodegradation rates in a landfill and is made from plant material rather than fossil fuels. Currently we have a small product range using this technology such as garbage bags and dog-waste bags.

ISB: What is your vision for Biogone in the next couple of years?

JM: COVID-19 has probably changed everyone’s business visions, but we hope to continue to see good growth and brand recognition within the Biogone range. We have some new products under development which will help businesses reduce their plastic footprint and operate more thoughtfully in regards to disposable plastic.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

JM: Be bold and try not to run out of stock.

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