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Packaging Tales: Mushrooms and Molded Pulp

In the coming months, we’ll be complementing our Candle Subscription packaging with both Mushroom Packaging and Molded Pulp.

When we started Keap back in 2015, we knew that bio-based packaging was going to be a critical part of our vision for the future. We wanted to find and invest in solutions that could be reused and ultimately returned to the soil.

In 2017, thanks to our neighbor in Brooklyn, Danielle Trofe, we were put in touch with our wonderful partners at Ecovative, who had pioneered the creation and techniques of growing Mushroom Packaging — an at-home compostable alternative to plastic-based foams. Since then, we have been one of the few companies on earth shipping the majority of our packages in this incredible material.

Nature's Way

Changing the world’s industries away from plastic-based packaging and styrofoam is no easy feat, and requires millions of dollars of investments in research, facilities and complex supply chains.

Since 2019, a number of short-term operational changes and COVID-related supply chain challenges have occurred which have meant we have not always had enough Mushroom Packaging available to ship out all our candles. 

Our Mushroom Packaging suppliers have been helping us weather the storm in a number of ways, giving us as much transparency as possible about their current operational capacity, pricing and future plans. It’s rare to feel the level of partnership we have here, and one of the reasons why working with vision-aligned suppliers is a healthier way of doing business.

We’ve been able to manage through the supply constraints thus far, but as a small business ourselves, we’ve been looking for alternative packaging options to ensure a steady option for our customers while mushroom packaging continues to adapt, grow and flourish in the coming months by opening a new, larger facility to keep up with demand.


The Future of Packaging, Lumi

Pulp Pull

With these significant challenges to our operations and pricing, we decided to look into alternative materials. Thankfully, we were put in touch with the experts at Guacamole Airplane through their fantastic writing on the subject of the future of packaging. This led us to identify molded pulp as a potential alternative to Mushroom Packaging.

Let’s do a quick molded pulp 101!

  • What is molded pulp? Egg-cartons, wine protectors, trendy food bowls, and even the beautifully shaped packaging that an iPhone arrives inside are all examples of molded pulp. Molded pulp is a form of protective packaging created by molding paper fibers to an exact form under pressure. Depending on the type of paper fibers used, the texture and color can vary.
  • Is it recyclable and compostable? Our molded pulp is both recyclable and home compostable. It is made from compressed paper with no binding agents or additional additives. Even better, it is made from 100% recycled newspapers, recycled corrugated cardboard, and water. Note: This may not be the case for all molded pulp products, since some may use heavily bleached paper fibers or binding agents.
  • Why not use this before? Molded pulp has incredibly high startup costs due to the need to create custom molds for the machinery that produces the packaging pieces. Roughly put, we’re talking about an upfront investment of $30,000. This limits molded pulp’s use to high volumes where these costs can be amortized over hundreds of thousands of pieces. We’re finally at the point where this is feasible for us as a small company (though it will take us a significant time to recoup our investment).
  • What are the benefits? Molded pulp is fully home compostable. Our supplier will be based near us in Connecticut (a 2-3 hour drive from our studio in Kingston), meaning low transport costs and emissions.

A molded wine protector, Guacamole Airplane

A Future of Fungi

As we plan to use molded pulp as an interchangeable alternative in the coming months, we know that Mushroom Packaging will continue to radically change how we manufacture and think about packaging in the future. We know there are incredibly smart and ambitious folks working to make it easier for companies of all sizes to use Mushroom Packaging. We expect the costs and capabilities of this form to continue rapidly improving, and envision a future in which mushroom packaging is ubiquitous. On our end, we continue to speak with Ecovative about new ways to apply their research in our products.

Until then, it continues to be a fun(gi) and educational journey working with these materials!.

To the future,

— The Keap team

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