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The fight against plastic waste: how traceless aims to clean up the planet
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The fight against plastic waste: how traceless aims to clean up the planet

Start-up founders Johanna and Anne on their alternative to plastic and their collaboration with OTTO

9/2/2021 Editor Verena Kolb Reading time: 5 Minutes
Their mission: to make the greatest possible contribution to solving global plastic pollution. Johanna Baare and Dr. Anne Lamp are the founders of the Hamburg-based start-up traceless and are currently collaborating with OTTO. Their approach: to see materials as part of continuous cycles and to use them again and again. Thanks to traceless and their alternative to plastic – which is based on natural raw materials, can be composted and is completely biodegradable – no more waste should be produced in the future

They make the perfect pair: Anne is the CEO and inventor of the technology behind the so-called “traceless” material, while her co-founder, Johanna, brings her business expertise to the all-female founding team. Together, they want to help solve the world’s plastic problem. “And we want to do it using our holistic, compostable alternative to conventional plastic and bioplastic – our traceless material,” explains founder Anne.

Swapping plastic for organic waste

With traceless material, the founders are launching a new, natural material that offers an alternative to conventional plastic and bioplastic in terms of both price and quality, and is still fully compostable under natural conditions – without leaving a trace. On the contrary: the nutrients are returned to the soil, and there’s no negative impact on the normal waste collection system. The traceless material is made out of waste materials from food production, meaning that the food and land-use conflict can be avoided. It doesn’t use any chemicals that are harmful to human health or to the environment, so it is completely safe for people and the planet. There is also a saving of up to 87% of CO2 compared with conventional plastic.

Our mission is very clear: make the greatest possible contribution to solving global plastic pollution.

Dr. Anne Lamp, CEO & Co-Founder from traceless

From idea to prototype

Founder Anne became a champion for biorefining more than six years ago and has now also completed her doctorate in the field. Bio... what? Biorefining is about using biomass in a holistic way. That means using all parts of agricultural crops, which are often only cultivated initially with the aim of using a particular part of the plant. An example is the cultivation of grain, which is often only grown in order to use part of the plant. In parallel, Anne co-founded the Hamburg regional branch of the “Cradle to Cradle” association. The group’s approach revolves around the idea of “circularity”, i.e. using materials in cycles again and again, and therefore not producing any waste. Anne combined these two concepts in the invention of traceless materials.

This year – one year after traceless was officially founded – the first prototype will be ready. The way there hasn’t always been easy, but what the founders have experienced most of all on their self-employment journey is a lot of support. Whether through the Hamburg Innovation start-up camp, financial support from the InnoRampUp programme run by the Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank (IFB Hamburg, a development bank) or through partnerships such as the one with OTTO, Johanna and Anne have met people early in their journey who have encouraged and supported them. “And we can’t forget our team, who initially worked on traceless on a completely voluntary basis because they, like us, are convinced of our mission,” says founder Johanna.

Self-employment, partnerships and a chance encounter

Even before the company was founded, Johanna and Anne were in close contact with OTTO. However, this partnership started quite by chance – ​​a friend of Anne’s first brought them together. And although the two founders were much less experienced in product development then than they are today, a business relationship developed that ultimately led to an exclusive partnership. OTTO is now supporting them in research and development, and would like to step up the collaboration over the next few years and carry out a pilot test.

Look for comrades-in-arms. If you have great ideas and can convince others of them, we can achieve a lot together!

Johanna Baare, COO & Co-Founder from traceless

The impact of traceless

The goal and motivation behind traceless is to make an impact – i.e. a socially and also ecologically significant contribution, in this case to reducing plastic waste. However, it is clear that a profitable business model must be developed at the same time: that’s because the influence that Johanna and Anne can have on the solution to global plastic pollution is directly linked to the amount of traceless material that they can bring to the market. And that, in turn, has an influence on society.

How does traceless work?

traceless works for consumers in the same way as other materials such as conventional plastic packaging. It offers a particularly good alternative in applications where a recycled or other reusable solution is not practical; traceless is holistically sustainable, will not work out more expensive and at the same time has properties such as tear resistance and stability. But what’s the best way to dispose of traceless material? “Of course, products made of traceless material ideally end up in the organic waste. But even if they do occasionally end up in other waste streams, they don’t affect recycling systems or further waste treatment processes there. This makes using the material very easy for the end user,” explains Johanna.

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