São Paulo – Aipim, mandioca or macaxeira. The common name may vary, but the raw material for this sustainable Brazilian-made packaging is one and the same: the starch obtained by processing the root of cassava. Já Fui Mandioca (I Was Once Cassava) is the brand that made this material into a biodegradable alternative to products like plastic and Styrofoam. When laid onto earth, the cassava packaging turns into fertilizer in up to 90 days. This technology led the two-year-old Brazilian startup to get accelerated, and it grew to add the likes of Google and Facebook to its client roster.
More than just an alternative to other materials, the brand strives for sustainability in all its processes. “We work with the circular economy, which is the concept of the earth, of nature. That’s the cycle that we worked to replicate. The cassava turns to packaging, which goes back to the earth and then turns into cassava back again. Our entire production is clean, as is the disposal solution. We believe in creating a process that will have a positive impact. During manufacturing, we use way less water, about 75 times less than plastic,” founder Stelvio Mazza told ANBA over the phone.
He said the technology had been 16 years in the making, and largescale manufacturing was one of the challenges. “When you talk about coming up with a new approach to plastic, people have no idea how long of a way it is from creating it in the lab and then going largescale. That’s why I say that all our staff, all of us are building and creating this technology each day.
The biopackaging is 100% eco-friendly and it solves the problem of materials that are extremely short-lived before going in the trash. “We aren’t a packaging company so much as a tech one. Some of the applications of plastic didn’t make any sense to us. The little spoon you stir coffee with will get 2 seconds of use and then take hundreds of years to degrade into the environment,” he noted.
The company’s product line includes pots, plates, to-go packages, and ice cream cups as the latest addition. Output is doubling each year, and although the pandemic has taken a toll, revenue is expected to go up in 2020. In order to achieve that, the startup had to seek out new clients. “Much of our client base are events or offices, like those of Facebook and Uber, which are currently non-existent, since the staff are working from home. These markets have been severely punished. We had already been making the shift towards delivery and natural food restaurants, we just had to do it quicker to adapt to the pandemic.”
Mazza believes many more packaging possibilities can be explored as the brand grows. “We have managed to do almost everything that Styrofoam can do. We are currently focused on food, because we’re still a startup, but I think the pandemic can make things happen even quicker. There’s no plan B; this is the planet we have to live in. The more informed and aware consumers are, the better,” said Mazza, adding that Já Fui Mandioca also caters to small businesses such as restaurants and ice cream parlors.
The brand has plans to export over the long haul. “There’s a demand everywhere in the world. We aren’t exporting yet because we are focusing on Brazil, which is a big market, but we’re considering exporting. We don’t begin looking into exports until interested parties come up looking to make it happen.”
Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum