Plant-Based Food and Drink Solutions with Repurpose Compostables’ Lauren Gropper

September 18, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Lauren Gropper. She’s the CEO of Repurpose Compostables. Welcome to Green is Good. LAUREN GROPPER: Thank you. Thanks so much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Lauren, we’re always so excited to have eco-entrepreneurs on the phone with us and before we even get to talking about your great company and the products that you’re making that more people should be buying every day and changing the world as they live, can you talk a little bit about the journey? What brought you here and how did you even create a wonderful company like this? LAUREN GROPPER: You know, I’ve been in the sustainability world for a long time. I started out doing green building and green design for commercial projects like hotels and airports and bug office buildings and I just saw there was a real need for this kind of product and that type of work and my clients were asking about these kind of products and I couldn’t find something that really had a great price point that actually worked really well that was a product comparable to all plastic products people were using so it was a long journey to actually find the right product and it just got me thinking gosh, if somebody could really make great products like these that were affordable, then they’d have a great business and that’s how it started. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful, and I’m on your website now. For our listeners who want to follow along while you and I chat today, it’s www.repurposecompostables.com. It’s a beautiful website. Talk a little bit about the reasons. Why is it important for the people listening to this show, both in America and anywhere else in the world, to switch from petroleum-based products to plant-based products like you create at Repurpose? LAUREN GROPPER: Well, I think the big issues is really that why should we use oil for a product that we use for 10 minutes or throwaway plastic products? Why should we be using a toxic material essentially in our products that we drink from? So, I think plant-based products provide a few solutions. Number one, they’re totally nontoxic so you never have issues like BPA or any issues of leaking in landfills with plant-based products and when you have a compostable product, there’s no waste. We know we have waste issues with disposables, so Repurpose is here to really provide that solution, both the solution to the waste issue and the health issue with the problem with plastics and petroleum. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, and why are your products different from other products out there that are substitutes? Explain the differential. LAUREN GROPPER: Well, I think there are several substitutes but the plant-based substitute, I think, is really the important one. The other substitutes are often recycled plastics and in that case, you’re still dealing with petroleum-based products. Yes, it’s recycled product, but recycling rates, number one, are extremely low in our country and people often confuse the fact that if you’re using, let’s say, a water bottle or a disposable plastic product that it’s recycled and then turned into that again. That doesn’t happen. What happens is those products are shipped off overseas and then they’re downgraded into sort of a thinner, less-quality plastic so you never have a water bottle that turns into another water bottle. There’s a real myth there with recycling so yeah, again, with recycled plastic, you’re still using plastic. Our products are never made from plastic, and so we kind of want to go all the way on the sustainability front and be that solution that can offer zero waste. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your website now and what we love to always do is frame the problem on the show and also then, give the solution, Lauren. So, people can buy your products online but also at retailers? Is that correct? LAUREN GROPPER: That’s correct, yeah. We primarily actually sell through retail so though our products, of course, are available online, we encourage people to go out to the stores. We want to make it easy. Online is obviously very easy and then also, our product is a convenience product. You could be having lunch at a party or picnic and you want to do the right thing and not feel guilty about using plates and dishes. You want to use disposable because it makes your life easier, but you don’t want to use plastic or Styrofoam, so we’re trying to be available in stores where people shop every day and can buy these products very easily at a very affordable price line. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, that’s a great point. Making sustainability convenient and making it affordable is how great people like you and innovators like you get to change the world but I want to shamelessly give plugs to the folks who are selling your products so our listeners out there can go out there and buy it. For instance, for me, there’s a Bed, Bath, and Beyond in my building in New York. I’m going to go today and buy your products there so Bed, Bath, and Beyond carries it; Abe’s Market; Lassen’s; Kelsen’s; Rally’s; Bristol Farms; Mother’s; Gourmet Guild. Am I missing anybody? LAUREN GROPPER: Wegmans will be carrying it very shortly. I know that’s in Northeast, which is a great retailer we’re excited to work with and check them out as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Awesome, and if there’s not one of these retailers in people’s area, they can buy it online, right? From your website? LAUREN GROPPER: Yes, absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. That’s great. So, talk a little bit about composting is becoming part of our vernacular now. It’s no longer just a foreign term. Can you talk a little bit about how does composting work? LAUREN GROPPER: Absolutely, so there’s a few different parts or types of composting. One of them is industrial composting and one of them is composting in your backyard so I’ll just quickly explain the difference. Industrial composting, which is where our products are applicable, is a city based where all the compostable products, all the food scraps and everything compostable, which is an organic material, would go in. There’s very high levels of heat and humidity and then it turns it essentially into fertilizer so it goes back into the earth. Backyard compost, some people do on their own if you have a yard. It’s food scraps. It’s yard scraps. It basically breaks down those materials because of the heat and humidity, but it doesn’t get as hot or as humid as the big industrial ones and our products, because we want them to be sturdy on the shelf and actually be shelf stable, they need very high levels of heat and humidity so that’s why ours work in an industrial composter so many cities now in the United States, there is such a thing as industrial compost pickup. You have a bin, like you know, how you have a blue bin for recycling. You have a compost bin that you get picked up directly from your curbside and it’s taken to a composter so that’s the model that we’re looking to be a part of where you could put it in that bin and it’s taken away and it goes back to the earth. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I know New York is now coming online with this. LAUREN GROPPER: Yeah, which is so exciting for us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah, it is. What happens if you live in an area — this show carries, not only across the United States in 170 markets thanks to the great people at Sirius XM, but also, after it airs, we go online on iTunes and we get thousands upon thousands from China to England, South America, and beyond. What about if someone doesn’t have composting in their area? Talk about the sort of life cycle of your product then. LAUREN GROPPER: Sure. That’s very common. Most people don’t have composting in their area, so it’s something that we’re working towards but essentially, our product will work just like any other plant-based material when it goes into a landfill. It will go right into the garbage. It can be recycled but the recycling facilities don’t exist to recycle it so it’ll go into the garbage and you can look at it as you said, in the life cycle of the product, so our product still takes 55% less CO2 to create and it’s made from plants and when it’s in the garbage or when it’s in a landfill, it doesn’t have any toxic residue so unlike a petroleum product, it takes a lot more CO2 to create it and it releases toxins. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you, Lauren. If you just joined us, we’re on with Lauren Gropper right now and please go to her great website, RepurposeCompostables.com. We’re talking about her wonderful products that everyone should be using now. There’s no reason anymore to be using petroleum-based products in your home or in your business. This stuff exists and her website’s just amazing. It’s really informative and it gives you a lot of entry points. We’ve got about five minutes left. Talk a little bit about not only being an innovator and eco entrepreneur but a woman entrepreneur. How did this come about and how has this journey at Repurpose been going for you, Lauren? LAUREN GROPPER: It’s been going great. We started a couple of years ago and really, it kind of came about organically. We have this idea, we have this product, let’s just see where this goes. Hopefully we can get some traction and make this happen and so thankfully, we have such a great team of people around us and supporters that we’ve been able to get to where we are. It really is just a huge team effort and all I can say is that each step of the way, we’ve just been so fortunate to have the right people involved really and have people on the other side in terms of buyers and people who are willing to help sell the product and take a leap with us and say yeah, we’re going to put it on our shelves and we think it’s a great product and let’s hope our customers love it as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sales are going up every year? LAUREN GROPPER: Sales are going up every year, which is fantastic, so we’re at the point where we just want to see this as a product that’s on every shelf and it’s kind of an endless effort. We knock down every door to try and make the retailers understand what’s so great about our product and why people are going to buy it and I think you said it before. The key is to make it convenient and affordable. If it’s not convenient and it’s not affordable, then people aren’t going to buy the product, no matter how wonderful it is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re right and why not? In this day and age when the science is irrefutable, why wouldn’t people buy your great product? Why wouldn’t retailers want to carry your product? LAUREN GROPPER: You know, I think still people are tied to, the economy is still a big issue and people are tied to, even if it’s a difference of 15 cents or 25 cents or a dollar, that’s a hard earned dollar and I think there’s still economic realities and I think these are products that we’ve had around forever. There’s a lot of education involved and not everybody understands why petroleum is bad and why plastic and Styrofoam are bad products. They really don’t know and so if they don’t know, they can’t make any informed decisions so this is why your show is awesome, because we’re informing people about why these decisions need to be made and why it’s important to buy our products and so there’s a huge educational element involved and we’re really trying to do that and once people know and are informed, they make the right choices. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, your competition, in many ways, is apathy and the status quo? LAUREN GROPPER: Yes. That’s exactly right. Yeah, I think that’s true. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last three minutes, unfortunately, but this has been so informative. Talk a little bit about the future. What’s your vision? I see on your website, ‘Coming soon: Repurpose Campus’. What’s on your mind and what’s on your partner’s mind? Where do you want to take this, Lauren? LAUREN GROPPER: Well, Repurpose Campus, thanks for bringing that up actually. That’s a project that we’ve been working on for a while and just launched in California, where kids on campus use a ton of these kind of products. At parties, in their dorms, in their fraternities and sororities. I’m not saying that just for drinking alcohol. We don’t want to be supporters of that. People are going to do what they’re going to do. They use it for water, for shakes, for whatever they use it, but they go through a lot of disposable. Let’s just say that. They don’t want to spend the time washing dishes. They’re on the go and so what we’ve done in California, in Los Angeles particularly, is sponsor a Greek house for the semester and provide them with our products and we’ve teamed up also with a composting collection group and so we had this full life cycle zero waste semester where they didn’t use any plastic cups. They used all of ours and it was all picked up by the commercial composter and composted so they were like this amazing example and we’re just trying to replicate that now in other parts of California and then take it across the country. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. Besides Repurpose Campus, what’s next for your company and what’s your dream here? LAUREN GROPPER: Well, we want to be available worldwide. That’s for sure so we’re actually starting now just to look into markets in Canada and Australia and grow from there and really be this ubiquitous brand. I want to be the brand that everybody recognizes and be a household name when it comes to these kinds of products. We want to be the guys that everybody knows and trusts and decided to kind of go on the journey with us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome so for our listeners out there, please go to the great retailers that we mentioned early before or online at www.repurposecompostables.com. You can buy Lauren’s great products there and, as we mentioned before: Bed, Bath, and Beyond; Gilson’s; Bristol Farms; Mother’s; Lassen’s; Abe’s; and other retailers are carrying her great products. Lauren Gropper, you’re a sustainability leader, and rock star, and truly living proof that green is good.