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Hong Kong's Ecoinno Seeks $48 Million Funding to Expand Sustainable Plant-Based Tableware Production

Hong Kong-based green-technology start-up, Ecoinno, is actively seeking to raise $48 million in funding by the end of this year. The capital will be instrumental in supporting the establishment of a factory dedicated to producing plant-based compostable containers. This initiative aims to meet the surging demand for sustainable and disposable alternatives to single-use plastic products, particularly in the catering and hospitality sectors.

Hong Kong is on the verge of implementing legislation to phase out single-use plastic items, with this anticipated as early as mid-next year. The impending regulatory changes are expected to accelerate the adoption of non-plastic alternatives. George Chen Dah-ren, CEO of Ecoinno, emphasized the significance of these impending policies, stating, "After waiting for 15 years, [Hong Kong is] close to implementing policies for getting rid of single-use plastic products by stages and imposing a levy on municipal wastes." He further added that the combination of pro-green finance policies and corporate environmental risk management would likely boost demand for sustainable alternatives.

Historically, the adoption of eco-friendly, plastic-free food containers and cutlery faced resistance due to higher costs. However, the tide is changing as sustainability becomes a more significant driver of consumer choices. Ecoinno was co-founded in 2015 by George Chen and Alexander Bismarck, a German materials scientist. Bismarck had pioneered a method for producing plant-based materials that are robust, heat and cold-resistant, oil and waterproof, and fully compostable. Together with colleagues from City University Hong Kong, they developed this innovative material, which forms the basis of Ecoinno's product offerings.

Ecoinno's containers, designed for the food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics sectors, offer a sustainable solution. After use, these containers can be shredded, mixed with food waste, and processed at a government facility in North Lantau. The resulting biogas can be used to generate power, and the remaining residue can serve as fertilizer, closing the loop on sustainability.

The $48 million funding Ecoinno is seeking will primarily contribute to its ongoing Series B fundraising round. Already, the company has secured $8 million from a Hong Kong pharmaceutical manufacturer. The intended use of these funds is to construct a fully-automated plant in Dongguan, Guangdong province, China, with a production capacity of 9,000 tonnes of plant-based tableware materials annually by the third quarter of 2024.

Ecoinno's journey has been supported by government initiatives and strategic investments. It received HK$22 million (approximately $2.8 million) from the Hong Kong government's Innovation and Technology Commission between 2015 and 2018. Subsequently, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, a non-profit initiative of Alibaba Group Holding, provided $6 million in funding in 2020. This was followed by another round of fundraising, securing $6.5 million in late 2021.

The company's products have garnered considerable interest from major players in the catering and aviation sectors, giving Ecoinno confidence in meeting revenue and cash-flow requirements for a potential stock market listing by 2028.

George Chen highlights the unique attributes of Ecoinno's products, stating, "Our products are disruptive because they are made from wholly plant-based materials. They can withstand temperatures from minus 30 degrees to 200 degrees Celsius, and they are grease and water-repellent without using any plastic coating." He further explains that Ecoinno employs a proprietary water-based recipe to treat agricultural waste materials like sugar cane, wheat, and bamboo, allowing the cellulosic materials to fuse into an exceptionally sturdy structure.

As part of the upcoming legislation, makers of green tableware products will be encouraged to seek government endorsement for compliance. Makers of paper-based products with water-based barrier coatings will need to provide test reports from accredited certification providers, demonstrating recyclability to paper pulp in water and compliance with standards issued by the China Paper Association. Some manufacturers, including Ecoinno, are already included in endorsement lists published by the government's green tableware portal.

Looking ahead to 2027, Ecoinno plans to expedite its international expansion by licensing its technology to strategic business partners. This approach reflects the company's commitment to making sustainable, plant-based alternatives readily available worldwide, ultimately contributing to the reduction of single-use plastics and environmental preservation.



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