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Planet & Purpose Newsletter — Plastic Free July 2023

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

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View full article here.

Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our ocean, and every year, 11 million metric tons of plastic enter our marine environments—enough to circle the Earth four times.

Every July, the global community is encouraged to limit plastic waste through the Plastic Free July initiative. But beyond individual actions, systemic industry disruption will be necessary to help society achieve ocean pollution reduction and avoidance at scale.

So I asked John Felts (Co-Founder and CEO of Cruz Foam), Keely Anson (Partner, Venture and Philanthropy at, and Doug Woodring (Founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance) to share their expert perspectives on market circularity across sectors.

Looking ahead, August will mark both National Startup Day and National Nonprofit Day. and I’ll tap industry experts to discuss the importance of cross-sector collaboration for our ocean.

Stay tuned!

Founder Spotlight with mic

John Felts - CEO of Cruz Foam

Daniela: John, I’m so excited to feature you as our founder in this month’s Planet & Purpose!

In 2019, your venture became part of the second class of startups accelerated by Sustainable Ocean Alliance.

And today, you’re an active member of SOA’s newly announced Ecopreneur Network.

I’ve been genuinely honored and inspired to witness the Cruz Foam journey from concept, to creation, to market introduction.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share more about the industry you are actively working to disrupt and why you feel there is great potential for systemic reimagination?

John: Thank you, Daniela.

We’ve been grateful for the support of Sustainable Ocean Alliance and our visionary investors as we build and scale a brand whose products can upend the plastic packaging crisis.

According to the UNEP, approximately 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers of which approximately 85% end up in landfills or as unregulated waste.

Cruz Foam is on a mission to replace single-use plastic packaging like polystyrene foam with our regenerative, earth-digestible packaging solutions from natural materials like chitin from shellfish shells and fibers from agricultural waste.

And studies show 87% of consumers are explicitly concerned about extensive packaging waste. So consumer demand will undoubtedly drive the industry’s adoption of more circular alternatives to plastic.

It’s only a matter of (limited) time.

Daniela: The data definitely reinforces what trailblazers like you knew intuitively—that a seismic shift is necessary and about to take place in the packaging industry.

Aligned with that, who do you feel is leading the market’s plastic waste reduction/circularity progress today?

John: Our partner, Atlantic Packaging, is moving the entire industry in the right direction. As the largest privately-owned packaging company in North America, its influence is unparalleled.

Atlantic Packaging’s A New Earth Project is dedicated to ridding the world’s waterways of plastic pollution by helping consumers, brands, and packaging suppliers increase their access to state-of-the-art sustainable packaging solutions. They’re simultaneously educating the industry and providing a vehicle for transitioning to these new products in a clear and understandable manner.

The industry and the planet will benefit from continued progress as well as move towards:

  1. Creating new sustainable economic opportunities with a reimagined supply chain.

  2. Encouraging customers and the end consumer to expect truly circular and sustainable solutions.

Daniela: Disrupting harmful but operational practices of an established industry takes innovation and stakeholder buy-in.

What has been your biggest challenge thus far in this regard, ideally something founders with a similar mission might encounter, and how did you turn it into an opportunity?

John: Companies like ours that are trying to replace non-sustainable materials or processes with earth-friendly solutions will encounter a myriad of challenges.

One, trying to meet technical benchmarks established for non-sustainable counterparts.

And two, making a case for the solution (beyond planetary benefits) to your target market/industry.

To solve these dilemmas, I encourage ecopreneurs to think about the problem by looking at completely redesigning the system they are looking to disrupt, rather than meeting the current product or process at parity.

Cruz Foam, for example, redesigned the entire packaging experience by both eliminating the single-use plastic element AND lowering overall shipping costs by reducing packaging weight.

Daniela: I agree that product differentiation is so important for capturing a market segment.

Any advice on how to design a solution that has unique and compelling attributes for end users, beyond ocean or planetary benefits?

John: When a founder is conducting design exercises, they are considering the needs, behaviors, and user experience of the end consumer.

So, I recommend that founders explore how a product can be useful beyond its intended purpose (an important circularity principle).

Also, ask how the consumer experience could be made more rewarding and more efficient. Can you make the disposal process easier? Can you integrate systems that both benefit the consumer and the planet?

At Cruz Foam, we’ve found that materials designed to disappear into nature can often have different physical properties than non-sustainable materials.

This can be translated into fun as well (think about the delight of popping bubble wrap but without the plastic guilt). A little extra creative thinking can frequently bring unexpected rewards.

Daniela: You’re undoubtedly an expert in creative thinking. To inspire readers to think outside the box, can you share a bit more about how your solution works?

I’m still in awe of how you and the team of Ph.D. scientists and bio-engineers at Cruz Foam have been able to harness building blocks from nature to solve a major industry challenge, especially with the proliferation of e-commerce and its environmental impacts.

John: Absolutely. We took our inspiration from nature to reimagine packaging!

First, we capture unwanted waste from the seafood industry. Chitin is the key to our process. It is the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet and is the structural compound found in crustacean shells, as well as insects and fungi.

We use it to create a package that then can ship all kinds of products, from coffee beans to salmon and even shrimp—full circle.

And at the end of the day, the person receiving it has a complete system that works, not only for receiving materials but disposing of them in a way that it returns to the Earth and is reabsorbed.

Daniela: With this amazing breakthrough in circular packaging, can you share any current or upcoming Cruz Foam developments that readers should keep on their radar?

John: Thanks to our partnership with Atlantic Packaging, and given that our solution is designed to work with existing manufacturing equipment, we are now actively rolling out new products and working with clients to bring our sustainable packaging to the market.

The first product you will see this year is Cruz Cool™, now available for shipping this month! This innovative alternative tackles the critical issue of polystyrene foam in the 48-hour cold chain industry. The ideal use cases include temperature-sensitive, consumer products that require shipping such as seafood and meats, perishable foods, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and beyond.

We are also addressing traditional foams and bubble wraps in the wine and spirits industry with our curbside recyclable Cruz Wrap™ product, which also is now beginning to ship in limited quantities.

Daniela: It’s absolutely amazing to see what the Cruz Foam team has already achieved with these first two, innovative products shipping out. Please keep us posted as additional products become available!

It is always a pleasure to tap the mind of a successful industry disruptor. Whenever I see a disturbing headline about plastic pollution, I pause and remember the systemic change our ocean urgently needs is already underway—thanks to innovative and creative founders like you!

John: My pleasure, Daniela. At Cruz Foam, we are on a mission to reduce plastic waste in our ocean and planet by empowering and educating industry leaders on better, sustainable alternatives. We strive for the global adoption of circular solutions without compromise!

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