Photo Courtesy of Wonderfil

LC alum’s startup Wonderfil offers unique solution for plastic pollution

WONDERFIL, A new startup based in Santa Cruz, CA, is on a mission to reduce single-use plastics by providing refill stations for consumer packaged goods (CPGs) such as shampoo and liquid soap. The company intends to help decrease fracking and single-use plastic consumption while allowing consumers to save money. Former Pioneer Log editor Amelia Eichel ’20 is one of its co-founders.

Eichel conceived the initial idea for Wonderfil by examining the systemic problem of single-use plastics. Companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell were contributing to the issue by making plastics and selling them to distributors for packaging. After Eichel realized that these large oil companies are the ones producing plastics, she followed that thread and discovered that big plastic corporations had been spreading misinformation about recycling to keep their products in the public’s hearts as a sustainable option. Even though plastics are technically recyclable, the scale necessary to make them a sustainable resource is simply not possible. 

“The chasing arrows symbol on plastic packaging is the biggest greenwashing campaign in history,” Eichel said. 

Plastics pollute the areas they are manufactured in by releasing pollutants that can lead to cancer and other health issues. This disproportionately impacts BIPOC and immigrants, who often make up the majority of the population of these areas. Eichel had her problem, now she needed to create a solution. 

Eichel invented Wonderfil as a way to foster more efficient transportation of CPGs. By bringing them straight from the manufacturing source to the store in a reusable container, the CPGs can then be dispensed through a refill station. This allows for decreased transportation, packaging, environmental costs and humanitarian costs associated with the process. 

When Eichel expressed this idea to her childhood friend and engineer Shiloh Sacks, Sacks said she could easily help design the equipment necessary to make Wonderfil come to life. She also found Eichel a team of engineers who were crucial to the company’s conception.

Eichel moved in with Sacks in Santa Cruz in September 2020, and they applied to the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) with their idea. PIE helps entrepreneurs build connections and obtain materials, and allowed Wonderfil to get in contact with CPG suppliers and universities. With funding from the LC Bates Center, the Center of Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Carbon Fund at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), they developed the necessary technology to start a partnership with UCSC this October. 

At UCSC students swipe their card, select whatever product they want and fill a reusable container with it. Once they contain a sufficient amount of the product, the contents are weighed and the students are charged the appropriate amount. Eichel says that there have been talks with LC about getting a Wonderfil station in Templeton Campus Center or Maggie’s, and barring some logistical challenges, both parties want it to happen. 

While Wonderfil is a brilliant, practical solution to a very important systemic issue, Eichel believes everyone has the ability to come up with that sort of solution on their own as well. 

“If you are going to be an entrepreneur, pick a problem that has to do with a social or environmental cause,” Eichel said. “You have the knowledge and skills to solve what you are learning about in your classes.” 

In addition, Eichel explained that it takes time for an idea to develop, and that careful attention needs to be paid whether you are looking at the big picture or your short-term goals. Most of all, Eichel wanted to underscore the potential everyone has to make a difference. The world has a surplus of problems; we can all be part of the solution.

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