Los Angeles Business Journal

Incubator Throws In With Disposable Products

BIOPLASTICS: Maker of compostable cups, utensils joins clean tech facility. By Ryan Faughnder Monday, May 20, 2013

L.A.’s incubator for clean technology companies has signed up what it hopes will grow into the next hot item for environmentally conscious consumers.

Repurpose Compostables, a downtown L.A. company that makes cups and utensils from plant-based plastics, will join the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator in June.

The incubator gives environmentally focused companies subsidized workspace and business coaching as well as helping its entrepreneurs with potential investors. The goal is to promote Los Angeles as a hub of green tech.

The incubator already had 16 companies on its roster, including a solar water-heating system installer and an electronic-waste management company – but Repurpose will be its first consumer-facing company with a physical product, said Neal Anderson, chief operating officer for the non-profit organization.

“It’s great to engage with the general public,” he said “Not everyone cares about wind turbines and such, but they all care about stuff they touch every day.”

Repurpose, co-founded in 2010 by Lauren Gropper and Corey Scholibo, gets its bioplastics by extracting sugar starch from plants such as corn and bamboo and melting it into material for the cups and utensils.

The goods are compostable, which means they decompose more rapidly than so-called biodegradable products, which can take years to break down.

However, the company’s cups and utensils require high levels of heat and humidity to break down, so they must be taken to an industrial compost site. Its plates and bowls, on the other hand, can be dissolved in a backyard compost setting. The resulting compost is used for fertilizer.

Failing both those efforts, consumers will likely send them to the landfill.

Gropper said consumer demand for compostable goods has increased and the price of producing plant-based plastic has decreased, making the cups more attractive.

But they’re still almost twice as expensive. A 12-pack of Repurpose coffee cups retails for $4.99, according to one retailer’s website. A somewhat larger 14-pack of standard Dixie coffee cups retails for $3.29.

The company sells its wares primarily at grocery stores, including Lassen’s in Camarillo and Gelson’s supermarkets, which are owned by Compton’s Arden Group Inc.

Repurpose, which has five full-time employees, has increased its retailers from 200 last year to 500 now; the co-founders have raised about $1.5 million in funding from friends, family and angel investors.

Gropper said the company’s executives decided to target grocery stores because the wholesale market was saturated and they wanted to create a recognizable consumer brand. She’s confident shoppers will develop a taste for the compostable containers.

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