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On a mission to fight plastic waste, Hong Kong-based startup Distinctive Action has created a bag that completely disappears in water. Designed to replace conventional plastic bags, the company’s solution is non-toxic, biodegradable, compostable and leaves no trace of microplastics on the planet. But what’s even more unique? The company’s packaging is vibrantly branded, firmly inserting itself into the story of the product it envelops.
Green Queen Editorial Disclaimer: #INVISIBLE products are made from PVA, aka polyvinyl alcohol. While the water-soluble material is certified compostable according to the US Standard ASTM D6400 and the European Standard EN13432 and doesn’t contain PP, PE, PS and PVC plastic, PVA is a synthetic polymer derived from fossil fuels.
Founded last year by husband and wife team Devana Ng and Flavien Chaussegros, Distinctive Action is a startup on a mission to fight plastic packaging in Hong Kong. The company has recently launched their plastic alternative solution, dubbed #INVISIBLEBAG, is a vessel that looks, feels and functions exactly like a conventional plastic bag, but is completely water-soluble.
Our dream is to develop products that from design, already have been engineered for easy waste management and minimal impact on nature.Devana Ng, Co-Founder Distinctive Action
Speaking to Green Queen, co-founder Devana Ng said the idea behind the company all started from their love for nature. “We are a couple from France and Hong Kong who love hiking and trail running, but found a lot of plastic packaging, bottles and trash. So we started to collect it while hiking, also considering how we can reduce waste at the source.”
Realising the severity of the plastic pollution crisis in Hong Kong and around the world, the founders became focused on searching for a replacement for plastic packaging that is both sustainable yet convenient for mass consumers. As Ng underlined, plastic is a hard material to replace, especially when it comes to pricing.
“We cannot deny that plastic has various applications with low cost,” Ng told Green Queen. “We need to offer a packaging solution to brands that meets their requirements, expectations and workflow, as it is virtually impossible to end the plastic use overnight.”
Stumbling across a material commonly used in medical industries to coat capsules, in personal care and laundry products such as detergent pods and agricultural films, Ng and Chaussegros saw an opportunity to launch a product that can do exactly that.
But what’s the “invisible bag” made of? Distinctive Action’s solution is made primarily out of Polyvinyl Alcohol, aka PVA, a non-toxic, odour-less skin-safe synthetic polymer. The bag also contains plant-based starch, glycerin and water. Thanks to the PVA, the bag behaves like the plastic film but dissolves in water at 70°C and above, making it an ideal packaging solution.
Having been tested for Estrogen Equivalent (EEQ) by biotech lab testing company Vitargent, the bag is officially considered completely safe for environmental and human health – the dissolved material will not affect marine wildlife or human skin.
Even if it isn’t dissolved in water, Distinctive Action’s bag is ASTM D6400 and EN13432-certified biodegradable and compostable by the Japan BioPlastics Association, which means it won’t leave behind any plastic waste or harm marine and wildlife. After a few months in a landfill, the bag reacts with bacteria, biomass and microorganisms to be broken down into carbon dioxide and water with no toxic residues.
Several other startups have developed similar dissolving plastic bag substitutes in a bid to replace the environmentally-polluting version. Another Hong Kong startup, Hydroplast, has created a water-soluble flexible film that can replace everything from cling wrap to tape, gloves and plastic carrier bags. Meanwhile, Amsterdam-based startup WAVE Eco Solutions has come up with a biodegradable and water-soluble bag using cassava starch.
What sets Distinctive Action aside is the way they have branded their product. Most of the time, packaging tends to be an afterthought for consumers and brands. And even though recently brands have paid more attention to their packaging, the goal is usually to further their own branding and use the packaging as a marketing opportunity. When we are out shopping, most of us hardly spare a thought about who makes the packaging of our products.
Changing to greener alternatives has become a ‘must-have’ element in [a brand’s] product or business development.Devana Ng, Co-Founder Distinctive Action
In recent years though, more and more shoppers are becoming conscious about the environmental cost of packaging, spurred on by raising awareness of the plastic waste crisis. #INVISIBLEBAG’s branding puts itself front and centre in this conversation, thereby engaging directly with end consumers and asking them to think about the packaging of what they buy.
While awareness about plastic pollution has grown in recent years, the launch of Distinctive Action’s first product comes at a time when the anti-plastic movement has come to a stalemate amidst the coronavirus pandemic, which has inevitably meant the use of more disposable personal protective equipment. Unfounded fears over the transmission of the virus associated with reusable items have only further fuelled the consumption of single-use items. In fact, according to a dire new study, even in a best-case scenario of plastic waste reduction (say we could get rid of 80%), we will still be drowning in over 700 million metric tons of plastic by 2040. We urgently need more companies like Distinctive Action.
The startup is still hopeful that change will happen, driven by consumer demand for more sustainable alternatives. “Especially with millennials, they follow brands who are leaning on sustainability, from manufacturing to sourcing to the finished goods,” Ng told Green Queen.
“Changing to greener alternatives has become a ‘must-have’ element in their product or business development. We can see that more and more companies are now willing to switch to sustainable materials for packaging.”
Ultimately, the Hong Kong-based company wants to reignite the movement in the city against plastic waste to push through mass change. “We want to influence not only industries but also individuals by creating a community for positive environmental change,” said Ng.
“We’ll keep working on and researching new applications with a lot of focus on the after-life of the product. Our dream is to develop products that from design, already have been engineered for easy waste management and minimal impact on nature.”
All images courtesy of Distinctive Action.