Two SMU Grads Create Eco-Friendly Products to Combat Single-Use Plastics

All straws suck—but single-use paper straws that disintegrate mid-drink are especially sucky. That's why two SMU grads were inspired to create an alternative to plastic straws, as well as other single-use plastic products, made with upcycled agave waste from tequila production. The pair are raising a Series A round.

500 million plastic straws are used every day in the U.S. That’s 182 billion straws a year, creating tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste that hurt the environment. But the trendy answer to solving that problem—flimsy paper straws—can suck just as bad. Now PlantSwitch, a new, Dallas-based startup, has come up with a solution you can really sink your teeth into.

PlantSwitch wants to render single-use plastics obsolete through sustainable practices and innovation solutions. Their secret sauce is the formula they use to create their plant-based products.

Two former SMU golf teammates hated paper straws—and got to work

The startup was founded in February 2020 by former SMU students Dillon Baxter and Maxime Blandin. The two were golf teammates who traveled to courses around the world and noticed the rising trend of paper straws.

“We hated paper straws,” said Baxter, co-founder and CEO of PlantSwitch. “We appreciated that there was an effort to reduce plastic waste, but we thought it could be done a lot better.” 

The founders set out to find a high-quality, sustainable solution to this problem. The result was an agave-based straw that holds its shape and structure, but degrades once the straw is no longer needed.

PlantSwitch straws in action [Photo: PlantSwitch]

Not so sucky

“Our main competitors are the lower-priced alternatives to plastic,” said Baxter. “PLA (a corn starch derivative) and paper are the most common answers to plastic replacement, and few know the truth about what happens to them after they are disposed, and why would they when they are marketed as ‘compostable’?”

But PlantSwitch is different. Leftover agave fibers and fluids from tequila production create a resin that PlantSwitch turns into a high-quality, biodegradable product. In simulated landfill conditions, the plant-based material has been tested to degrade over 90 percent in the first 100 days, and fully within one to five years.

“Landfills see little to no oxygen, making it near impossible for these alternatives to degrade,” says Baxter. “Our products are uniquely designed to degrade with or without oxygen, making them an ideal match for any environment.”

Other alternatives to plastic straws, like PLA and paper products, require special composting methods that rarely occur—and the products end up in landfills all the same. And they often aren’t much better when they’re being used: Many single-use items created from these materials have quality issues, with forks breaking off in food and straws dissolving in drinks. 

Currently, the company is only working with the agave plant for their products, but in the future PlantSwitch plans to utilize its formula with other plants from different regions. Plants like hemp and flax are great opportunities for the company, says Baxter. 

PlantSwitch Natural Straws [Photo: PlantSwitch]

(Sustainable) money matters

Since the company’s founding, PlantSwitch has grown its B2B business from three clients in June 2020 to 300 clients in August 2021—saving over 10,000 pounds of plastic waste every month, says PlantSwitch. It also recently launched its B2C side of the business, and hopes to get its plant products placed on shelves at your local grocery store. 

“We envision a world where zero-waste capitalism is possible and products that are used for seconds don’t last for centuries,” says Baxter, who was recently named one of NTX Inno’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs under 25. His team strives to make “sustainability synonymous with quality.”

Raising a $4M round

PlantSwitch’s monthly revenue has increased 350 percent since January of this year, with more than $1M in annualized sales. Bootstapped until now, the company aims to raise $4M in a Series A funding round with $500,000 already secured.  

The founders, who got their start going restaurant to restaurant in DFW, now provide products to over 300 clients nationwide, including Hillstone Restaurant Group, Vandelay Hospitality Group, Pebble Beach Golf Club, and more. The company also works with eight national distributors: Sysco, Ed Don, Aramark, Imperial Dade, Bunzl, Ben E Keith, Performance Food Group, and Reinhart Foodservice. They also partner with Oceanic Global. 

PlantSwitch Cutlery [Photo: PlantSwitch]

What’s next

“It’s our goal to always be at the forefront of plant-based and biodegradable technology,” says Baxter, “Innovation is the key to actually making a dent in that space.” 

Next in line for PlantSwitch’s plant-based consumer goods are sustainable cups, take-out containers, and bags planned for launch in 2022. The company also plans to provide a product development program that creates eco-friendly products for large organizations with unique packaging needs. Plant-based make-up palettes and biodegradable hangers are on the distant horizon. 

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