At the age of 17, Keeling began exploring the possibilities that existed within biodegradable materials.
While studying chemistry at Washington & Lee, she began to focus her research on a specific set of polymers that have similar functionality to polyethylene – what makes up regular plastic.
Today, that research has evolved into a line of products that look just like plastic, but can break down in any natural environment the same way a leaf or orange peel would.
The result is Terravive, which derives its name from the latin words for “Earth” and “life.”
“It’s all about the idea that the Earth can sustain itself,” Keeling said.
“We use materials that have the ability to break down in soil, so in your backyard, in an industrial compost, in a landfill, in the ocean, waterways; no matter where they end up, as a consumer you can rest assured that these products are going to break down cleanly and fully.”
Terravive has a variety of customers worldwide, but their main client base is big-box retailers, government agencies, food distribution centers and corporate headquarters that purchase their products in a wholesale capacity.
The collection of fully biodegradable products currently includes single-use, disposable items like drinking straws, utensils, plates, bowls and cups.
At present, Terravive works with contract manufacturers on the West Coast to produce their products, a good percentage of which end up being purchased by customers along the coasts, especially in California, Maryland and Florida.
Keeling and Joe Swider, VP and COO, hope to eventually localize a portion of their manufacturing operations as a way to reduce the carbon emissions associated with longer logistics lines across the U.S.
Additionally, the two are actively pursuing partnerships with universities in the region to leverage their facilities, laboratory space and brainpower as the company grows.
“We are in a massive tidal wave of changing consumer sentiment and a confluence of factors that have created this massive emerging market for biodegradable, natural materials, which is where we fit,” Keeling said.
“Plastic isn’t going to go away any time soon but there’s been this entire segment of the plastic market that’s increasingly being carved off for biodegradable alternatives.”
For Keeling, a large part of growing the company has been networking and participating in events for startups across the country.
Following her first year at Washington & Lee, Keeling, founder and CEO of Terravive, took a gap year, during which she travelled to San Francisco to launch Terravive and network with others in the industry.
Earlier this year, Terravive was selected to participate in the Target Incubator program at the corporate retailer’s Minneapolis headquarters.
The immersive three month program selected eight Gen Z startups out of approximately 5,000 applicants that aligned with Target’s primary corporate responsibility issues and gave Keeling the opportunity to grow the business through workshops, mentorships and the opportunity to get feedback from business experts.
Keeling and Swider said that revenue has seen exponential growth in the last six months and that Terravive hasn’t relied on much funding, but rather is self-sustaining through existing cash flows.
“One of the things that excites me about this industry is the speed in which it is growing,” Keeling. “Second is that this space is now in a position to make real, measurable, positive change to positively impact future generations.”
While branding and marketing their products seems to be the biggest challenge Terravive faces, Keeling and Swider hope to focus on growing the company’s marketing efforts in the coming year.
Both are confident about the potential consumer base and are exploring ways to tap into it.
“There’s a lot of people that care for the environment,” Swider said.
“There’s also a lot of people that, like a good business, want to do well for the environment. We feel that the people who are in those numbers are in the hundreds of thousands, if not multiple tens of millions of people, that care about what we are doing.”
Published on americaninno.com
Another one whose bioplastics is branded as plastic-free. TIPA recently branded itself as plastic-free in the UK: Tipa Bioplastics Branded As Plastic-Free in the UK. But the first one dates back from November 2018: Tea Company Claims PLA is Not Plastic. Some people in the sector are not a big fan of this strategy.
What do I think? You may have to be pragmatic and flexible. The bioplastics charm offensive didn’t happen and nobody is defending plastic in the public sphere. Don’t expect these entrepreneurs to wait without doing anything. They’re taking their destiny in their own hands awaiting the plastic establishment to start acting….which may come too late.