From potato waste to designer glasses

At the Better World Collective, we’re bringing together startups, corporates, universities, and policymakers to change the world through material innovation. As a collective, we facilitate collaborations that focus on outputs, delivering influential projects and creating real impact. We are proud to showcase a three-way partnership that truly embodies sustainable impact – the circular innovation relationship between Chip[s] Board, McCain Food and Ace & Tate. 

We gathered ambassadors from each brand for a behind the scenes conversation on circular innovation. In this blog post, you will learn about each of the brands and insights into how to build meaningful, impactful, and circular collaborations. 

The material innovators: Chip[s] Board

Founders of Chip[s] Board, Rob Nicoll and Rowan Minkley, met during their Graphic Design course at Kingston University. The pair were frustrated with the disposable, unsustainable nature of their university projects, which often were on display for a couple of weeks before being thrown out. So, they began to experiment with their own materials. At the time, Rowan was working as a chef, and as he was peeling potatoes one day, an idea clicked. He approached Rob with the idea and using many potato peelings and a powerful wood-working press – they created the first iteration of Chip[s] Board. 

Their first creation using the material was a stool, and this is what started opening doors for the company. This stool was the product they pitched to join the Central Research Laboratory accelerator programme - the UK’s leading hardware accelerator powered by Plus X. 

“The CRL Accelerator programme with Plus X was a life raft for us as founders of a startup. CRL showed that there was legitimacy in our idea and that there were people around who were willing to put some support behind it. We wouldn’t be here without their support.” 

Soon after Chip[s] Board joined the CRL accelerator programme, Kingston University reached out to ask Chip[s]Board whether they wanted to connect with fellow alumni and McCain Food Regional CEO Nick Vermont. A couple of weeks later, Rob and Rowan visited the McCain facilities for a tour and to discuss their potential partnership. It was a no-brainer on both sides; solving McCain’s need for a sustainable solution for their waste stream and Chip[s] Board’s need for consistent potato waste to develop their material.

Discovering the McCain waste stream was a significant development. No longer were they relying on Rowan to bring home potato waste from work; now they had a consistent supply of potato waste. This partnership also reinforced the legitimacy of the startup during pitches, providing backing from a big household name brand. 

Since their inception, the Chip[s] Board team have grown from Rob and Rowan, scaling up to a team of eight. They have also moved away from their original material idea, the MDF alternative from which the stool was made from and have moved towards a fully compostable alternative to plastic. The Chip[s] Board team are also increasing their production capacity by moving from London into a larger location in Leeds where they will be upscaling the development of their biomaterial.  

“We’ve been lucky to bring a team of fantastic experts on board, in the fields of chemistry and engineering – Nick from McCain also now sits on our advisory board!” 

With their plug and play material, Chip[s] Board is pioneering the forefront of both the war on plastic pollution and the war on food waste – making it simple for fashion, interior and design brands to switch to sustainable alternatives. 

The corporate waste stream: McCain Foods  

Nick Vermont's career with McCain Foods spanned thirty-five years, predominantly as Regional CEO. McCain Foods has always been a brand driven by a desire to reduce food waste. Founded in Canada in 1957, McCain Foods was born from the McCain family’s frustration with the constant waste of crops. 

“McCain was founded on a culture of minimising waste, be it raw materials, energy, water – it’s fundamental to what the company does”

Minimising waste isn’t just great for your sustainability agenda – it fundamentally makes business sense. McCain knew that if they wasted potato, they also wasted oil and packaging, effectively pouring money down the drain. Over the years, their waste reduction efforts have included everything from research projects to improving irrigation methods and optimising the way you cut a potato to increase the number of fries you get. 

Despite their best efforts, they still produce potato waste. Some of this has gone to feeding livestock, some as starch for oil and adhesives. The problem is that these markets tend to be volatile, and finding reliable, consistent users of this waste stream was critical. 

“When the guys from Chip[s] Board approached us, it was a no-brainer, we didn’t need to think about it for a minute. We were proud to be supporting this startup to innovate and in turn, they helped us to continue to innovate around our relentless thirst for efficiency” 

The end-user: Ace & Tate 

Ace & Tate Creative Director, Ruud Debruin, provided insights on the brand's sustainability ethos and how, through this partnership, they are moving the needle on their sustainability agenda. 

Ace & Tate wasn’t founded as a sustainable brand; they wanted to make the best eyewear frames for their customers. But their “we’re working on it” messaging around sustainability is a respectful move – one that many brands should be strategising. It communicates the brand value of recognising their weaknesses and actively working on them. Two-thirds of consumers see transparency as an attractive quality in a brand; if companies don’t recognise this and adapt, they won't be around for long. 

“It’s a lengthy process, but we need to take the responsibility. The idea is that we create incremental change where we can. We want to be more climate-friendly and create more environmentally friendly products.” 

Ace & Tate’s sustainability team are dedicated to reducing the brand’s impact – placing them as a disruptor within an otherwise outdated industry. When they discovered Chip[s] Board, they were immediately excited. They saw the value that making frames from potato waste would bring, adding a layer of storytelling to their frames. 

As their name suggests, Ace & Tate’s glasses are predominantly made from acetate. A widely used material for companies wanting to take a more sustainable approach. However, the material has its drawbacks – including the fact that it takes a long time to biodegrade and needs to be in the right conditions to do so. Parblex, on the other hand, is 100% biodegradable and recyclable at the end of its life. 

The plug and play versatility of Chip[s] Board’s Parblex, meant that with injection moulding, it was easy for them to begin experimenting and prototyping to create beautiful, sustainably designed frames. 

The future of sustainable innovation 

The Chip[s] Board x McCain x Ace & Tate partnership shows how seeing one waste stream as a resource can positively impact and create opportunity for three different businesses.  

The Better World Collective can support you in making these valuable connections. 

As a corporate, when signing up to Better World Collective we offer you the opportunity to collaborate with innovators, connect with like-minded corporates and allow you to be part of a community that provide the right tools and support that will enable you to make real progress in sustainable materials for your organisation.

We have regular Summits held throughout the year, which focus on the sourcing and scouting elements and each summit will be themed so we can bring focussed solutions under one event.  

If you sign up to a summit, we will take you through a diagnostic to highlight your most pressing sustainability needs. Then, we source startups that are innovating the solutions. Through a day of workshops, fire-side chats, pitches and networking – you forge partnerships and spark projects with some of the most innovative talent that the UK has to offer. Empowering sustainability projects to fast-track and create more impact.   

If you are you a corporate looking to move the needle forward on your sustainability mission or a startup seeking to speed up innovation? Or perhaps an academic or policymaker looking to influence some positive change?  

Get in contact with Better World Collective today – we are driving innovation through collaboration. 


Find out how we can help you fast-track your journey to sustainable innovation and collaboration.

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