When Anaita Sarkar and Vikram Davé discovered a biodegradable packaging supplier in 2018, it ushered in the birth of Hero Packaging - a sustainable mailbag company now in the thick of US expansion.
Having sold more than 15 million mailers, Sarkar spoke to Business News Australia about how compostable products like hers are helping businesses cut their carbon footprints.
Waiting for the courier, Anaita Sarkar took in the sight of 100 orders enveloped in plastic from her former monogram accessory store OLIVIA&CO. Amidst the sound of crumpling as she picked them up, it dawned on her how quickly it would all turn to waste.
“I was looking at it and I thought this is ridiculous. There's got to be something better than this because as soon as it reaches the customer, it's going to be thrown to the trash within minutes.” Sarkar told Business News Australia.
“That realisation was a little bit confronting.”
She tried looking for sustainable and waterproof alternatives with her husband Vikram Davé, but there were none to be found. In a move reminiscent of so many entrepreneurial stories, the duo then decided to develop something new themselves.
What followed was a nine-month slog of R&D until the couple found a Chinese supplier that manufactures materials such as fossil-based PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalate) and PLA (poly lactic acid) - a bioplastic typically derived from corn.
The combination resulted in a mailer that can fully disintegrate in home compost within four months; a substantial improvement from plastic bags, which take 20 years to break down.
Self-funding the launch of Hero Packaging, the husband-and-wife team set out on a mission to drastically reduce pollution by replacing plastic mailers with their compostable alternative.
"It was a risk at the time because no one was really doing it - everyone was using plastic," Sarkar said.
"We didn't know if people were actually going to demand it enough to pay a more expensive price than plastic. Luckily, they did."
After commencing with biodegradable satchels, the Sydney-based company quickly expanded into padded mailers to meet customer demand. From there, the range diversified into compostable tapes, hex wrap, shipping labels and thermal printers.
The group has grown to service more than 40,000 customers and has worked with Australian brands such as Beginning Boutique, Cue Clothing, Veronika Maine and Zanerobe. In FY21, it reached $2.5 million in revenue and is anticipating that number will double come June this year.
In addition to operating from Australia, Hero Packaging has set up a warehouse in the US state of Utah. To aid its global growth, the enterprise opened a crowdfunding campaign on Equitise with the goal of raising between $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Sarkar said the incoming funds would be used to establish a US sales team, as well as fund new inventory and opportunities for product development.
So far, the raise has received about 2,000 expressions of interest.
“We're surprised in a really good way because we didn't expect that many so quickly,” Sarkar said.
“Up until this point, we've tried to fund this business. We've spoken to a lot of investors and while they're putting in money, a lot of the interest is from people who have bought from us before and want to be part of it. That makes us excited.”
When asked about where the company might head after the US, setting up a base in Canada or Denmark was on the cards.
"Surprisingly, we have a lot of Canadian customers. Luckily they get to shop from Utah, but it would be even better if they could have their own local warehouse," Sarkar said.
"We also want [a warehouse] to service everyone in Europe. We found that Denmark is actually a great location and so we're looking at setting up there as well."
Sarkar also notes increasing community awareness about compost will be important for seeing long-term change.
“I'm speaking to local councils like Randwick in Sydney because they have implemented food organics and green organics (FOGO) bins where you can just put your compost in,” she said.
“It actually alleviates that whole problem of ‘I don't have a compost bin’ if local councils can provide that for you and take it off to a composting facility.”
Within nine months of introducing the collection service – which began in March 2021 - Randwick Council estimated 1,400 tonnes of additional food and organics were composted instead of going into landfills.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), around 30 per cent of Australians have access to a full FOGO collection service, while 70 per cent have access to a garden collection service.
While Australians use an average of 130kg of plastic per person each year, only 12 per cent of it gets recycled. Up to 130,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in waterways and the ocean.
To combat the issue, the federal government’s National Waste Policy is aiming to introduce a FOGO service to all households and businesses by the end of 2023.
“When you mention composting to anyone it seems like it should go in the ‘too hard’ basket,” Sarkar said.
“There are compost bins that you can get for your small apartment or your house that can be set up in five minutes.
"It obviously helps the planet which is what we're after, but it also saves families from putting all that waste into kerbside bins and it saves them space.”
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