Bay Area entrepreneur hitting it big with new future for recycling

ByJennifer Olney KGO logo
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Bay Area entrepreneur hitting it big with new future for recycling
Tons of cardboard that would have been dumped in the trash are being turned into a first-of-its kind product - a paper bottle.

MANTECA, Calif. (KGO) -- Tons of cardboard that would have been dumped in the trash are being turned into a first-of-its kind product - a paper bottle.

The bottles were created by Oakland entrepreneur Julie Corbett, whose story sounds like an episode of the TV show Shark Tank.

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It started when Corbett's children's school launched a "no waste" lunch campaign. She and fellow parents got a wake-up call when they tried to buy food items with packaging that did not generate a lot of waste.

"A lot of the stuff we thought was recyclable, we learned really truly wasn't," Corbett said.

Corbett worried about all the plastic in the environment, so when she could not find many products with environmentally friendly packaging, she decided to develop her own.

"I had to learn about plastics. I had to learn about paper. I had to learn about recycling, manufacturing, equipment building," said Corbett, who readily admits she is not a scientist. Her background was in the investment industry.

Corbett spent several years researching, then tested bottles with the help of Straus Creamery in Marin County. Finally, with money from angel investors, Corbett launched Ecologic.

"We really focused on zero waste from the beginning," she said.

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The Ecologic factory is in Manteca where it now produces bottles made of recycled cardboard and paper from all over California. The bottles are made of two pieces of extremely hard cardboard that snap together without glue.

The Ecologic paper bottle alone can hold dry products such as powdered detergent, but the bottles can also be made with thin plastic liners to hold liquids.

The liners are made of mostly recycled plastic. Corbett says "Ecologic" bottles use 70 percent less plastic than standard bottles because the paper shell provides the strength.

After the bottles are used, the paper shell and liner can be separated easily, then recycled again.

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Seventh Generation was the first major brand to sign on, selling laundry detergent in Ecologic bottles. Now, L'Oreal is using the bottles for facial cleanser.

Mark Murray, with the non-profit Californians Against Waste says our state's recycling has been exported to Asia for years, but those markets are disappearing and it is critical we find ways to recycle our own plastic and paper closer to home.

"Ecologic is an example of an innovative company that has figured out a way to process paper right here in California. We need more of those kind of innovative end users" Murray said.

The state of California has loaned Ecologic $3 million to help the company expand.

Calrecyle estimates the upgrades will create about seventy new jobs and keep 488 tons of waste out of landfills.

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Corbett says the loans helped fund new machinery that assembles and stacks the bottles in a way that makes transportation much more efficient. She calls it the secret sauce that will make her product cheaper and greener.

The Ecologic factory even captures all the water used during manufacturing and recycles it back into the system to use again.

Corbett says it is no coincidence that this recycling solution was developed by a woman.

She explains that "80 percent of all dollars in the supermarket are spent by female heads of households, so a female perspective is actually completely critical to solving the problem because we are the ones making all the decisions and we are the ones dealing with the waste."