Here's a sobering fact: The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily, a whopping 30 percent of it packaging. Some people might read that statistic and vow to be stricter about recycling. Julie Corbett took things a tad further.
For Corbett, the wake-up call came in 2008, when her daughters’ elementary school in Berkeley, California, adopted a zero-waste policy (no Ziploc bags, only reusable water bottles). Suddenly, the mom of two started questioning the sustainability of every item in her family’s household, from milk cartons to cleaning supplies. “The innovation on the product side was there,” Corbett recalls. “Yet in packaging, it was the same old thing.”
Inspired by the then-new iPhone’s curved fiber nesting tray and the Canadian milk pouches of her youth, Corbett envisioned an environmentally-friendly bottle with an outer shell of recycled paper concealing a thin, plastic, recycled liner inside. The concept could, she believed, reduce carbon emissions by more than a third. Turning it into a full-fledged company, however, proved an uphill climb. “Potential investors thought I was just some chick from Berkeley who didn’t know what she was talking about,” Corbett says. Until, that is, she ran a successful test pilot with a local dairy at an Oakland Whole Foods.
By 2013, Corbett’s enterprise, Ecologic, claimed a bustling a factory in Manteca, California, and a client list that included Seventh Generation and Nestlé. Business appeared to be booming. In truth? “We struggled to find the right technology, equipment, and people,” she admits, explaining that Ecologic relied too heavily on manual labor and found it impossible to scale. So focused was the company on fixing the manufacturing process that they began ignoring calls and emails from potential clients—among them, Scott Schienvar, head of supply chain operations at L’Oreal.
At the time, in mid-2016, Schienvar had been tasked with tracking down the maker of Seventh Generation’s packaging for a new purist brand, Seed Phytonutrients, that L’Oreal was incubating. He hit a brick wall at Ecologic. “They were ignoring us,” he remembers. “So I totally stalked them.”