“If you want to solve a problem, you need to live that problem.”
Company: Zero Circle
In 2019, Neha Jain watched a documentary on seaweed that explored how it could be used as a material in a variety of use cases and could help reduce waste from everyday consumption. Around the same time, she’d also come across the story of a woman in the US who had gone completely zero-waste. These instances piqued Neha’s interest in climate change and the kind of solutions that could be created to mitigate it. She later embarked on her own minimal carbon footprint lifestyle, but realised that emissions from industries cannot be neutralised by individual actions alone. The answer, she concluded, lies in finding an alternative source that industries could switch to.
“My first attempt at composting had the entire block smelling like a septic tank. Plastic revealed itself as the Hydra of the modern world – chop off one head and two took its place. I began to comprehend the impossible economics of recycling, zero-waste was a circular pipe dream in an economy that was linear. This meant a conscientious lifestyle would never be sufficient. The solutions I sought needed architecture that went back to genesis. What I did not expect was to go back all the way, to where life itself began – the ocean. I reimagined it not as a dumpyard, but as a vast reserve of seawater and the fertile soil of opportunity.”
This insight led to the launch of Zerocircle in 2020. The company helps conscious brands across industries adopt low carbon materials that are made out of regenerative resources like seaweed which grow wild in the sea and hold the key to unlocking the answers to climate change, food scarcity, sustainable packaging and so much more. Seaweed does not need fertile soil, land or a single drop of fresh water to reproduce and can be grown and disposed of in large quantities while doing almost no harm to the environment. After further research, conversations with experts, and experimentation, she realised that it could be the answer to eliminating single-use plastics for a wide variety of use cases.
Single-use plastics not only live for a thousand years, but when they do break down, they affect species across land and ocean and also emit gases that lead to global warming. An alarming realisation for her was that even paper cups, plates or paper packaging for burgers and cakes, etc. have plastic coating on it which takes 20-50 years to break down and enter our food chain in the form of microplastics.
Armed with research and a direction, Neha approached Mumbai-based Institute of Chemical Technology’s seaweed research department and met Dr. CRK Reddy, a marine biologist known as the ‘King Of Seaweed’. She worked with him to identify coastal areas in India to cultivate seaweed, develop the end-product and test her hypothesis.
With trial and error Neha and the team at Zerocircle developed seaweed into a material that can be used for packaging such as bags for products like clothes or shoes, film for food, and several other plastic packaging alternatives. Zerocircle’s products break down into soil-friendly compounds, leaving no microplastics behind. It aims to start with producing one ton of film per day and continuously scale that to match the B2B demand. Zerocircle wants to work with large businesses across FMCG, healthcare, and textile to help them make a real difference.
Neha has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Christ University, Bengaluru. Before starting Zerocircle, she founded a logistics and delivery startup, and worked at Google and Aditya Birla Money across various functions and roles.