Marketplace: Stardust Sustainables launches reusable bag line
February 4, 2018
Peter Murray might not remember at what age he learned to love the earth, but he can point to a single moment that convinced him to start a business to help protect it.
Last year, his son and his son's girlfriend told Murray about beaches full of trash they saw while in Indonesia. They felt hopeless, but Murray felt empowered. He decided to launch a business that sells reusable and compostable bags.
Stardust Sustainables, the name of his new business, sells bags that are made out of material from the plant corchorus.
Murray said that he grew up loving the outdoors and wanting to treat the earth with respect. By the time he was 10 years old, he was growing vegetable gardens every year. During the environmental movement of the 1960s, he said, song lyrics resonated with him, such as those in Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock." The lyrics stuck with him through the years and inspired the name of his business, Stardust Sustainables.
He studied horticulture in college and worked as a landscape architect for years, which he loved. But he was ready for something new.
"That was really fulfilling," he said. "Every project that we did, we were doing something to improve the environment. But it was just one property at a time."
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When Murray left his job in Washington D.C., he was prepared to step into a second career that could have a greater impact on his community, country and even the world.
"It's neat to think about creating something that might have a very, very significant impact on the planet," he said.
The discussion with his son led him to research the negative impact of plastic and non-recyclable bags on the environment. He then spent months studying different plant materials. The goal was to make it durable so it could be reused, but also plant-based so it could be composted. Plus, he wanted to pick a plant that was sustainable to grow.
"(Corchorus) grows without fertilizers, without pesticides and without irrigation," he said. "It is harvested by hand. It absorbs (carbon dioxide) and gives off oxygen at a much higher rate than trees. All that makes it really the most sustainable crop on Earth."
The plant is native to Bangladesh and produces a fiber called jute, which is used to make the fabric burlap. Murray tested prototypes with different styles of woven patterns of jute. He would bring the bags to his backyard, put his foot in them and pull to see if they would break. Then, he would bury them in the soil and check how quickly they went back to the earth.
He landed on what he saw as the perfect bag last fall. It was strong enough, but could also biodegrade completely in three months.
Being biodegradable was one of the key necessities for the bags, Murray said. Plus, it is what sets him apart from the reusable bags found in stores across the country.
The problem with reusable bags is that they are made out of mixed materials that are generally not recyclable or compostable, he said.
"Almost all of these are destined for the dump, or wherever they are going to end up," he said.
With his new business, Murray hopes to not only sell bags but also educate the public. Even though reusable bags are a step in the right direction, they could end up on Indonesian beaches alongside single-use plastic bags, he said.
"These will be on Earth probably 900 years after people are gone from this Earth," he said. "It doesn't make sense to use a product that outlives us."
Murray is excited about the prospect of growth, especially since some stores in Utah, such as The Market in Park City, are already selling his bags to the public. Murray's son is helping him launch the business in Boulder, Colorado, too.
He said that, regardless of if he sells one or 1,000, he will be happy not only reducing the amount of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable bags, but also empowering others to understand that even though global waste might seem like too big of an issue, small acts add up.
"You can make a difference," he said. "It's just a matter of having the conviction to do something yourself and take that first step."
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