Plastic film waste piques a young entrepreneur’s interest in an alternative to seaweed

Abel Goremusandu was working in the graveyard at a factory in Christchurch when he had an idea.

Concerned about the amount of plastic used to wrap pallets in the warehouse, he considered eco-friendly alternatives and decided to explore bioplastics made from seaweed.

Kelpn strives to create a truly compostable soft plastic alternative, made from algae.

SCOTT HAMMOND/STUFF

Kelpn strives to create a truly compostable soft plastic alternative, made from algae.

He was finishing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Canterbury (UC) and teamed up with an agricultural science graduate, an environmental policy expert and a marketing expert to help make this lofty dream a reality.

Their company, Kelpn, is now striving to create a soft plastic alternative that is truly compostable, meaning it can safely decompose anywhere in the environment while keeping produce as safe and fresh as conventional plastic packaging.

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Abel Goremusandu, a graduate of UC, told the judges that his company aims to produce an alternative to plastic from kelp.

Corey Blackburn / Stuff

Abel Goremusandu, a graduate of UC, told the judges that his company aims to produce an alternative to plastic from kelp.

“I was working in the warehouse and we were wrapping pallets in plastic, sometimes for just four or five hours. It was unbelievable how much plastic we were using,” he said.

“We looked for an alternative and the reason we chose kelp is that other materials (bioplastics) use land and water.”

The kelp used grows prolifically around New Zealand, but the 22-year-old said exactly how they turn the seaweed into a plastic-like material is a closely guarded secret and the subject of controversy. a non-disclosure agreement.

Goremusandu, who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, was one of 24 entrepreneurs trying to impress the judges at a UC Dragon’s Den-style competition in Christchurch.

The student entrepreneurs spent 10 weeks developing their ideas before the Dragon's Den style competition.

Corey Blackburn/Supplied

The student entrepreneurs spent 10 weeks developing their ideas before the Dragon’s Den style competition.

His presentation went so well that he was named the winner of the People’s Choice Award.

Undergraduate and postgraduate students crafted their business ideas through UC’s Summer Start-Up program, a program to help accelerate their projects into reality.

An initial group of 24 was whittled down to 10, who attended the showcase on February 4.

Among the ideas were a company that recovers zinc from hazardous waste, an online speech therapy service and a digital platform that connects Kiwi businesses to customers in China.

Anzac Gallate and Jack-Fraser, of The Gro-Up Group, presented to the judges.

Corey Blackburn / Stuff

Anzac Gallate and Jack-Fraser, of The Gro-Up Group, presented to the judges.

Each finalist had just three minutes to present their ideas to a panel of industry experts, including Melissa Davies, Ben Kepes and Peter Montgomery.

The students came from a variety of fields and developed their ideas over 10 weeks with the support of coaches, mentors and speakers.

They covered topics such as intellectual property, product development, market validation and social impact measurement. UCE director Rachel Wright said the Dragon’s Den style competition gave students a platform to showcase their projects to a wide audience, including potential investors.

Katie Young of Progressiva, which will provide online speech therapy for people who have had a stroke.

Corey Blackburn/Supplied

Katie Young of Progressiva, which will provide online speech therapy for people who have had a stroke.

The other winners were:

Change Maker Award – The Gro-Up Group, which empowers teachers to engage students in science and sustainability through innovative educational programs.

Innovation Award – Zincovery, which ensures waste recycling at a lower cost than disposal, saving money and the environment.

Overall winner – eClean Envirotech. The eClean bioreactor removes nitrates, phosphates and other contaminants from waterways.

Millie-Morgan and Chelsea-Aitken, from New Zealand and beyond, hope to connect Kiwi businesses with customers in China.

Corey Blackburn / Stuff

Millie-Morgan and Chelsea-Aitken, from New Zealand and beyond, hope to connect Kiwi businesses with customers in China.

Zincovery is the brainchild of UC student Jonathan Ring and Dr. Aaron Marshall.

Provided

Zincovery is the brainchild of UC student Jonathan Ring and Dr. Aaron Marshall.

Bryce K. Locke