Today, California biotech company Newlight Technologies launches Restore and Covalent, its commercial foodware and fashion lines featuring products made with its patented AirCarbon, a material derived from the secretions of microorganisms who have been fed greenhouse gases. In layman’s terms, this means they collect some pollution out of the air, serve it to some critters who say “Pollution? My favorite,” and then they eat that pollution, and then they shit a wallet. At least I think that’s what it means, but I can’t be completely sure, because I am whatever is dumber than a layman.
Obviously, I had to investigate. As it turns out, Newlight’s brand-new production facility is located in Huntington Beach, a town that used to be about 90 minutes from Los Angeles, but now that most of us are stuck at home, you can get there in a smooth 45. I needed to see this in person, and I needed to know that things other than anti-mask protests were happening in Huntington Beach. So I took a drive down to Newlight HQ to check this out for myself, and below, I will answer some of your more detailed scientific questions.
Wait, they do what?
Yes. As atmospheric carbon is absorbed into our oceans, naturally occurring microorganisms feed on it and grow a material within themselves. Newlight has developed a method of collecting that material and molding it into a carbon-negative alternative to plastic and leather that they call AirCarbon. AirCarbon has been used to make packing material and office furniture, and now it’s being formed into straws, cutlery, eyewear, wallets, and handbags.
Yeah, but, what?
In its newly-opened Huntington Beach production facility Eagle 3, Newlight recreates ocean water conditions, adds the microorganisms, then basically pollutes that water with greenhouse gases it’s collected from landfills and factories. The little guys eat, their little stomachs get full, Newlight empties those stomachs, then filters, dries and forms that substance into pellets which they melt and mold into commercial products.
So these products are made of…microorganism pollution poop?
That is the technical terminology, yes. And since it repurposes greenhouse gases which would have ended up in the atmosphere, AirCarbon is carbon-negative. Every product they create is pollution that didn’t end up in the air and water.
You saw this in person? Was it like...a million little Pac-Man guys just going to town?
It’s all at the microscopic level, but that is my understanding of the process. Basically the whole place was big industrial vats full of liquids, which I looked at and nodded, like “Yes. Yes, I see.”
What are they making?
Restore is a line of cutlery that is not only reusable but also regenerative, which means that in the production process, more carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas is captured or destroyed than is emitted into the atmosphere. It’s also ocean-degradable, so if it ends up in the ocean, like literal tons of plastic cutlery does, it will degrade more quickly than even paper. On a related note, Restore also offers a line of straws, an alternative to the plastic ones that pollute our oceans, and the paper ones that even the greenest among us have to admit are not getting the job done.
Wait, they do straws?
They do good straws! I put my Restore straw to the Stage Three Cold Brew Test just today. A Stage Three Cold Brew Test entails getting a cold brew, drinking three sips in my car, having a mild heart event, putting the cold brew aside, leaving it in the drink holder because I forgot I had it in the first place, and then rediscovering it a few hours later when it has officially become hot coffee. The Restore straw held up through it all, and is dishwasher-safe, so it can be reused. It works just as well as a plastic straw, and if it ends up in the ocean, it will break down long before it ends up in a sea tortoise’s nose.
Oh, I love sea tortoises.
We all do.
Like that one in Finding Nemo! I like his overall attitude. Sea tortoises are all chill stoner boys, right?
Again, the science does back this up.
But wait, if they degrade in the ocean, wouldn’t they fall apart in your drink?
The degradation process involves the straws and cutlery being nibbled away over time by those same microorganisms. So unless you’re nursing a refreshing glass of ocean water for several weeks, your straw will retain its strength, and your days of oppression and disappointment at the hand of Big Paper Straw are behind you.
So you can wear this stuff too?
You can. AirCarbon has also been formed into a leather alternative— called “Non-Leather,” because we can’t expect these people to be brilliant at everything— for a line of handbags, wallets, and phone and tablet sleeves under the Covalent brand. Non-Leather may not have the heft of real leather, but it’s not flimsy plastic either; the wallet is sturdy enough to accommodate all the credit cards you’re running up right now. All the Non-Leather goods come in AirCarbon’s natural off-white color, or black.
Also, each Covalent product is emblazoned with a unique timecode called a “Carbon Date.” When entered into the Covalent website, the Carbon Date allows you to access the full history and carbon footprint of your piece, from when it was pollution and hungry microorganisms all the way up to when you bought it.
I grabbed a pair of sunglasses— they also make some pretty sweet sunglasses which retail from $180— and I have learned that they were ocean carbon on August 5th of last year, scooped out and transformed into AirCarbon on the 14th, pulverized into powder by the 19th which was formed into a resin on the 20th and molded into frames on September 3. It’s all backed up by blockchain technology.
Yeah, that word came up a lot, and I just sort of went “Mmm!.” There was a lot going on. Also, the website gives you the net carbon footprint of each product, so I can tell you with authority that these bois are 2.03kg of pollution that were diverted from the air, that I can wear on my face instead of in my lungs, where I’d been keeping it before.
So someone has found a way to turn greenhouse gases into sunglasses, wallets and straws?
Yes, with a brief detour through the tiny little butthole of a microorganism. While other fashion and foodware producers struggle to achieve carbon-neutrality, Newlight has found a way to be carbon-negative. As you hold each Restore or Covalent product, what you’re holding is a chunk of pollution that could have gone into the atmosphere but is instead a fashionable and/or functional product.
How do you get this stuff?
Restore straws and cutlery are available for restaurants and food service companies now, and you can snap them up on their website restorefoodware.com. Covalent eyewear and Non-Leather goods are available now at covalentfashion.com.
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