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Americans generate nearly 48 million tons of plastic waste each year and worldwide that number reaches nearly 300 million tons. Plastic can take anywhere from 450 to 1,000 years to degrade and as such is a virtually permanent waste product. One of World Centric's goals is to create a zero waste economy. One simple way to accomplish this is to replace plastics products with compostable products. World Centric's products are certified compostable and therefore biodegradable within 180 days after use. They utilize compostable plastics, wheat straw and silver grass in their production which not only eliminates waste once biodegraded, but also requires less resources in production.
In addition to being good for the environment, World Centric ensures fair wages for all its employees, powers its facility using renewable energy, offsets carbon emissions from transportation and supports independent sustainable organizations and non-profits by donating a portion of its revenues each year to these causes.
World Centric's innovation is its compostable food service goods. Plastics remain unchanged in the environment, unable to be naturally broken down for centuries. Compostables, however, leave no permanent waste or toxic residues after biodegrading, a process which can take as little as 60 to 180 days. The two main raw materials World Centric utilizes are wheat straw and silver grass.
Wheat straw is typically regarded as agricultural waste and is the fibrous plant material that remains after the desired grain or juice is extracted. World Centric has found a way to give this material a practical use rather than it going as waste, thus adding to the product's sustainability. Wheat straw is the primary component of many of World Centric's plates, bowls, and take out containers.
Silver grass is similar to bamboo, but is noninvasive. It is far more sustainable as a commercial raw material than trees because it requires less water and time to grow, and is better at helping prevent erosion. World Centric is one of only two companies worldwide that utilize silver grass to manufacture and market food service products.
Aseem Das is the founder of World Centric. He started the company in 2004 with the aspiration of educating people about sustainable practices, both social and environmental and the goal of creating a more just and sustainable world. World Centric quickly became certified as a non-profit in 2005 and continued to pursue these aspirations by hosting speakers, courses, and documentaries on sustainable living while starting to sell fair trade and compostable products so they could focus on educational outreach rather than gathering donations. In 2010 World Centric became a certified B-Corp and its focused shifted to the production and distribution of compostables. In pursuit of his goal, Das has ensured that World Centric strive for sustainability in every way possible, offsetting carbon emissions from production and distribution of its products, donating no less than 25% of its profits to environmental and social organizations, and working to ensure a fair, working wage to all employees in its supply chain. In fact, Das is hoping to celebrate 2017 as World Centric's first year donating more than $1 million to such causes.
The impact of World Centric's work is best exemplified in its use of wheat straw in its compostable plates, bowls, and take out containers. Not only is World Centric eliminating the need for wasteful plastic but it is utilizing an agricultural byproduct. Wheat straw is not only a sustainable alternative to plastic products, but it is superior to paper products as well, and for two main reasons. First, paper production can take up to six tons of wood pulp to produce one ton of paper, whereas only about a ton and a half of wheat straw are required to produce one ton of finished product. Less raw materials are required and therefore less waste during production. Second, wheat straw is an agricultural byproduct. Paper requires the harvesting of trees and approximately 10% of trees harvested for paper production comes from virgin forests. These forests are not replaced which contributes to the diminishing forests in the world.
In its early days, World Centric was a nonprofit with a goal of promoting a more just and sustainable world. It tried to accomplish this through hosting courses and seminars. Along the way, Das realized that for World Centric, "being for-profit was not incongruous with its mission to do good." Sales of its compostable products started out slowly with a very low inventory turnover and problems with consumers' product recognition. Relatively recently however, World Centric has been able to expand enough to be able to hire employees as needed and free up some capital for investment. World Centric has always given a portion of its profits to sustainable causes and organizations, and Aseem expressed excitement that 2017 should be the first year in which World Centric is able to give over $1 million, a sign that compostables are indeed a successful alternative to plastic products.
The greatest benefit to society by switching to compostables is the massive reduction of waste. Plastic waste is seemingly omnipresent and the use of compostable goods instead reduces not only the presence of plastic waste in our landfills and society, but eliminates the negative effects plastic waste has on our environment.
World Centric's environmental benefits are twofold. They find a use for an agricultural byproduct in wheat straw that otherwise has no practical use. Additionally, they are aiding in the elimination of plastic waste which has several harmful environmental effects.
Additionally, World Centric is researching other organic waste materials that could be utilized, potentially in compostables, in pursuit of creating a more just and sustainable world.
Aseem Das, Founder/CEO