Pizza was just the first step to saving the world, according to Zume co-founder and CEO Alex Garden. The company, makers of a robot-powered truck that cooks pizzas en route to customers, today announced it is making a major pivot to manufacturing compostable food containers.
The world, particularly the oceans, are choking on plastic. Ocean Conservancy estimates that every year "8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments." In a stretch of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California, there's a mass of plastic and other trash that's about three times the size of Texas. Some of this plastic will take hundreds of years to break down.
Much of this pollution -- 300 million tons globally a year -- comes from our addiction to single use plastics, such as bags, tableware and takeout containers. To get a grasp of this worsening problem, you need not look further than China. A recent New York Times story illustrated that just through food delivery apps, the large country generated 1.6 million tons of waste in 2017 -- including "1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons" -- a ninefold increase from 2015.
The answer isn't recycling; only 9 percent of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, according to the U.N. The only solution now is to not make the plastic problem worse.
That's what Zume hopes to do. The four-year-old company has acquired Pivot Packaging, which co-created Zume's signature compostable Pizza Pod. The combined company, now called Zune Packaging, opened a 70,000 square foot manufacturing plant in southern California. There, it will use a proprietary process to turn materials such as bagasse (sugarcane fiber), bamboo, wheat, straw, and other organic fibers (some of which were bound for landfills) into cups, bowls, plates, utensils and serving trays. Garden said these items break down in 90 days.