Trash and cash go hand-in-hand, from John Waters films to garbage hauling. 

Sustainable trash is also drawing interest, as investors pour funds into startups seeking to make earth-friendlier waste. Record sums have been raised by firms developing alternatives to plastic bags and other environmentally-damaging packaging.

More than $850 million has been invested in 20 firms over the past three years in the so-called sustainable packages and materials sector, according to Crunchbase. The investments are spread around the world, in places like Silicon Valley, Israel and Helsinki, Crunchbase said.

With 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flowing into the oceans every year, the startups should find no shortage of customers. Unilever, Walmart and Kellogg are among the big corporations that have pledged to move to using reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. Local governments may also be interested because packaging waste is responsible for one-third of all municipal trash, costing billions each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A major beneficiary of investor interest is Zume Inc., which started as a pizza-delivery company in 2015 but soon switched focus to providing sustainable food packaging, along with efficient food production and delivery systems. The Mountain View, California-based company has raised $423 million through Jan. 16, Crunchbase said.

In Israel, TIPA Corp. is developing compostable packaging that is as transparent, flexible and impermeable as plastic. The Israeli startup isn’t alone in this quest. Sulapac is developing a biodegradable alternative to plastic in Finland, while Danimer Scientific is doing the same in Bainbridge, Georgia. 

“The consumer at this point will not sacrifice product convenience,” Sofia Martinez, an adjunct partner at AgFunder told Crunchbase. “So the packaging needs not just to be sustainable, but also fulfill the convenience and conservation capabilities it has been fulfilling for years.”

  • Nestlé will invest as much as $1.76 billion to shift from virgin plastics to food-grade recycled plastics.To help meet a target of making all its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, the company will cut the use of virgin plastic by a third. 
  • Taco Bell announced this month that it plans to make allits packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2025.