Leaf Republic on Ekohunters
It all started when Pedram Zolgadri, the CEO and co-founder of Leaf Republic, realized that the raw materials dominating the packaging industry were, carton and Styrofoam, all of which produce large piles of waste and toxic byproducts. Whilst, these materials are widely available, cheap, light and easily transportable; their extensive usage results in polluted water, overexploitation of natural resources and adverse health effects.
On a quest to find alternative packaging materials and research new processing methods, Pedram travelled to India where he found inspiration on the most unlikely of places: plates. Traditionally, Indian communities serve their meals on Patravali plates, made from large leaves from local plants, such as the Banyan tree. Starting from the basic idea of using compostable and renewable materials, Pedram set out to develop a visually attractive, mass-producible leaf plate that could be sold to companies operating in the food industry. Disposable and biodegradable dishes and food packaging offered an innovative way to disrupt the packaging industry and help tackle the global plastic waste problem.
Carolin Fiechter first heard about the project on a business plan competition, and was immediately impressed by the vision to take a traditional product and transform it into a profitable alternative to plastics. Fiechter added legal, business and strategic knowledge to Pedram's habit of ”thinking without borders”, and together they founded Leaf Republic GmbH in 2013.
Combining traditional leaf usage with German engineering, they gradually built a supply chain in India and a complete in-house production site in Munich. Their goal from the beginning was to set up an ethical supply chain and to be able to control and understand every step during research, design and production of their products. But the path was not always easy.
How could a plate made entirely out of dried leaves ever be waterproof? Instead of giving up on this nearly impossible project, the investor's criticism fired up the team’s ambition and drove the to acquiring a profound knowledge about natural materials, paper engineering and the processing of biological resources. The result was a waterproof inlay made entirely from leaves that is produced by Leaf Republic at a paper factory.
Leaf Republic also had to overcome the challenges that come with being young startup: Whether it was setting up the subsidiaries in India in cooperation with local GOs and NGOs, filing the patents for their technologies or convincing corporates to partner up with them - Leaf Republic has had to come up with creative approaches to be profitable while staying true to their inner conviction of being ethically and environmentally sustainable.
Leaf Republic follows a circular economic principle: natural, biodegradable, and practical material, to be used for plates and packaging.
During the development phase of the plates they found out that they can also extract large amounts of pulp from the same leaves they use to manufacture the plates. Pulp is an organic, cellulose material, mainly used in the paper industry for the production of very light packaging material.
Leaf republic now plans to expand their own pulp production and to become recognized players in this market soon. While achieving a production capacity of about 9 mi. pieces per year, Leaf Republic now develops towards a R&D company.