How Two Startups Are Bringing New Sustainable Materials to Market

Find out how two companies in our Sustainable Solutions Collaborative are creating climate-friendly alternatives to concrete and plastic.

Concrete and plastics are two of the most ubiquitous manufactured materials on Earth. They are also two of the most unsustainable, polluting landscapes and waterways and emitting greenhouse gases that intensify climate change. In fact, cement production, essential to the making of concrete, is the largest single industrial emitter of CO₂, accounting for approximately 8% of global CO₂ emissions;1 plastics manufacturing makes up another 3.4%.2

Cement production is the largest single industrial emitter of CO₂, accounting for approximately 8% of global CO₂ emissions.

Working to find innovative, scalable solutions to these problems are two early-stage companies redesigning the plastics and concrete industries from the molecule up. Notpla, a UK-based startup and one of this year’s Earthshot Prize winners,3 is making packaging solutions from seaweed and plants, replacing single-use plastic with materials that naturally biodegrade. CarbonBuilt, a startup from Los Angeles, California, is delivering low-carbon concrete by reducing the use of carbon intensive cement inputs and mineralizing atmospheric CO2 created from the manufacturing process.

They are two of the five organizations supported by the 2022 Morgan Stanley Sustainable Solutions Collaborative, which identifies and helps scale breakthrough sustainability innovations through financial support and collaboration with both the firm’s Institute for Sustainable Investing and its expansive network.

Plastic is a low-cost material that carries 90% of its true cost at its end of life. That’s a mortgage to be paid by future generations.

– Pierre Paslier

Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Notpla

Plastic bottle in the sea

Creating Sustainable Materials

“There are many good uses of plastic, but single-use isn’t one of them,” said Notpla Co-Founder and Co-CEO Pierre Paslier, who spoke recently at the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Summit. “Plastic is a low-cost material that carries 90% of its true cost at its end of life,” he said, referring to short time periods in which many plastic products are used and then quickly discarded as waste that pollutes the environment. Nearly two-thirds of that waste comes from plastic products less than five years old, and just 9% is recycled.4 “That’s a mortgage to be paid by future generations.”

Searching for a solution to the plastic waste crisis, Paslier and his co-founder Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez looked to an unlikely alternative: seaweed. According to Paslier, seaweed grows fast, does not require fresh water or fertilizer and can sequester up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests.5 More importantly, it’s been around for millions of years, meaning nature knows how to break it down. By extracting the gelatin from seaweed, Notpla is transforming packaging for products people use every day. Take, for example, the commonly used single-use food container. While the plastic options are unrecyclable and come with obvious environmental impacts, even the ones made of paper often have a thin layer of film plastic to prevent leaks, making them unrecyclable as well. In response, Notpla invented a biodegradable plastic-like coating alternative. Similarly, to replace plastic water bottles at music or sporting events, Notpla made edible bubbles that can contain a variety of liquids.

Meanwhile, to reduce concrete’s carbon footprint, CarbonBuilt uses calcium-rich industrial waste materials to replace Portland cement—the traditional binder that holds gravel and sand together and is responsible for more than 90% of concrete’s CO₂ emissions. Through the company’s alternative process technology, the binder materials react with CO₂ derived from the atmosphere through Direct Air Capture systems or waste biomass to deliver the required strength, while permanently removing and storing CO₂. CarbonBuilt’s approach reduces CO₂ emissions by 70% to even over 100% compared with traditional concrete, according toaccording to CEO Rahul Shendure, who also spoke at the Summit. In 2020, CarbonBuilt produced more than 10,000 low-carbon concrete blocks using the CO₂ in flue gas taken from a coal power plant at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center.

Sea ​​port

Bringing Scalable Solutions to Market

Of course, inventing a new material is one thing; getting consumers to use it at scale is another. For Paslier and Gonzalez, their biggest challenge is persuading companies that Notpla’s materials are durable enough. “The specs of plastic are very much around performance, and all of its properties fly in the face of biodegradability,” Paslier said. “For single-use applications, we need materials that are in sync with that.”

But they also hope to convince companies that sustainable packaging can help them better align with consumers’ values. Most consumers in the U.S. and Europe said they were dissatisfied with the amount of plastic food packaging waste they have at home and that restaurants and grocery stores should step up efforts to reduce plastic packaging and utensils, according to a Footprint study earlier this year.6 “Most feel quite guilty about all the packaging they are throwing away as soon is something is opened and consumed,” Paslier said. Government regulations in some countries are also aiding the transition to plastic alternatives; last year, the EU enacted a ban of single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds.7

While durability is the gold standard for plastics, concrete needs to demonstrate that it’s both durable and strong. And the most common question Shendure says he gets from prospective customers is: “When you take out cement and replace it, is it as strong as what we need?” To help answer that concern, CarbonBuilt voluntarily submits its products to third-party labs that test for compliance with industry-accepted specifications. The company is using those standards to create the strongest and most cost-optimal solutions, he said.

And then there’s price. Will consumers opt for a sustainable material if it means the cost of the product is too high above market? Paslier says that because seaweed is renewable, it can offer affordable solutions. Still, he believes Notpla can attain mass adoption and significantly replace single-use plastic without necessarily winning the price war, because of the growing “moral imperative” to reduce pollution, not to mention the health concerns of ingesting microplastics that enter the food chain from packaging waste or other sources. One recent study found that people consume five grams of plastic—equivalent to the weight of a credit card—per week.8











This material was published on December 21, 2022, and has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any security or other financial instrument, or to participate in any trading strategy. This material does not provide individually tailored investment advice. It has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. Securities discussed in this material may not be appropriate for all investors. It should not be assumed that the securities transactions or holdings discussed were or will be profitable. Morgan Stanley recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies and encourages investors to seek the advice of a Financial Advisor.

This material contains forward-looking statements and there can be no guarantee that they will come to pass. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results or indicative of future performance.

Information contained in this material is based on data from multiple sources and Morgan Stanley makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of data from sources outside of Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley makes every effort to use reliable, comprehensive information, but we make no guarantee that it is accurate or complete. We have no obligation to tell you when opinions or information in this material may change.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investments tend to be more volatile than investments that diversify across many sectors and companies.

The returns on a portfolio consisting primarily of Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) aware investments may be lower or higher than a portfolio that is more diversified or where decisions are based solely on investment considerations. Because ESG criteria exclude some investments, investors may not be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or market trends as investors that do not use such criteria. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss in a declining financial market.

The guest speakers at the Sustainable Investing Summit are neither employees nor affiliated with Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC or Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”). Opinions expressed by the guest speakers are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of Morgan Stanley.

Information contained in the material is based on data from multiple sources and Morgan Stanley makes no representation as to the accuracy or completeness of data from sources outside of Morgan Stanley. References to third parties contained herein should not be considered a solicitation on behalf of or an endorsement of those entities by Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley is not responsible for the information contained on any third-party web site or your use of or inability to use such site, nor do we guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The terms, conditions, and privacy policy of any third-party web site may be different from those applicable to your use of any Morgan Stanley web site. The opinions expressed by the author of an article written by a third party are solely his/her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Morgan Stanley. The information and data provided by any third-party web site or publication is as of the date of the article when it was written and is subject to change without notice.

© 2023 Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC. Members SIPC.

+ Expand - Collapse
CRC 5360325 12/22