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Paper, Not Plastic

SOUTH CAROLINA – July 10, 2024 – Benjamin Moore is on quite the professional roll of late.

In April, the Central native and founder of Bubble Paper learned his company had earned Company of the Year honors from the South Carolina Research Authority. Barely a month later, Bubble Paper saw its first patent published, a milestone in the years-long journey for Moore and the company, which is pioneering the production of recyclable shipping products made from paper, as a more sustainable alternative to traditional, plastic packaging.

Rob Moser, senior investment manager, SC Launch Inc., which is an SCRA program, said Bubble Paper went above and beyond to receive its award in a competitive field of around 200 companies.

“Bubble Paper rose to the top from a lot of other companies,” Moser said. “Typically, this is great recognition for (the award recipient). I think it signifies the impact they are having within their industry and within the state of South Carolina, and the overall growth they have been able to achieve throughout the year.”

The victories come as Moore, a 40-year-old engineer and Clemson University graduate, continues to build on his dream to create better packaging alternatives.

‘Transform the packaging of tomorrow’

After graduating from Clemson, Moore said he held a series of engineering positions that led him ultimately to the aerospace industry. One facet of his job continuously caught his attention: “I did a lot of design work, and you could see packaging just come in from everything I designed,” he explained. “I’d design a widget, and the packaging weighed more than the widget every time something came in.

“So, you get to see that enough, and I started to think, ‘Wow, there are just some problems with packaging.’ You might see packaging around the home, but you don’t see all the packaging that winds up in a plant, and that is a lot more than (winds up) in a house.”

His goal, he said, was nothing less than to “transform the packaging of tomorrow.”

Seeing all that packaging refuse led to what Moore described as an “aha” moment. 

“We were searching really for that next thing in packaging that would make the biggest impact, and then my wife and I were walking through downtown, and we saw a big strip of Bubble Wrap lying in a ditch — it had blown out of someone’s trashcan probably and landed there — and she (Brooke, Benjamin’s wife) said, ‘Well, you need to replace that,’” he recalled.

Moore is quick to point out now that “replacing” plastic bubble packaging would be no mean feat. The original product traces its roots back to the late 1950s, and has become an almost-ubiquitous packaging material, favored because of its low cost and reliability.

Yet, armed with just that germ of an idea, in early 2018 Moore began to pursue what would morph and grow into Bubble Paper.

“I went back to the basics of engineering,” he said. “In the back of the plant, I was working with tooling to see if you could form paper in a new way, that hasn’t been tried before, and make something that can replicate the look and feel of Bubble Wrap, and do it in a sustainable, paper-based version that could be recycled at any material-recovery station.”

Overcoming obstacles

Blazing a new trail is generally not an easy task, and Moore recalled having to overcome unexpected obstacles that could have derailed his idea at many points along the way.

Moore drafted a business plan outlining core products and a niche market to serve, but “The biggest thing worth noting was that nothing went according to the plan,” he said with a laugh.

“Some of those lessons learned are to just be completely flexible and know that you are probably going to take one or two or three different routes to get to the outcome that you wanted, which probably isn’t the outcome that you planned,” he added.

In addition to flexibility, Moore stressed that an entrepreneur with an idea has to be persistent to see it through when things don’t go right the first time — or the second.

“Overall, you can’t give up; you have to be persistent until you get to that final leg,” he said. “We have a lot of processes that we’ve developed, and we designed and built all our own machinery to make our products. When you design and engineer things, getting it right the first time is pretty rare. Fortunately, a lot of our machinery, we did an excellent job and got it right, but there are always the oddball things, and then you have to go back to the engineering board and fix it.

“There are definitely a lot of little things; the big thing is that they’re not going to go to plan, but you can’t give up. You have to keep persisting and modify that plan until you get there,” he concluded.

When dealt a setback, Moore said his engineering background was his first resource for finding a solution.

“I’m an engineer by trade, and I’ve hired a number of engineers companywide, so we’re probably heavy on the technical side, and we kind of lean into engineering processes as a whole,” he said. “Any time that we have a general obstacle, problems, things like that, we definitely turn more toward engineering processes. It’s all set up for problem-solving.”

In the early days, Moore also utilized resources from programs designed to help startups, including the Silicon Valley-based Founder Institute. “That probably helped set a lot of the groundwork just for starting the business,” he explained. “That was extremely helpful in launching everything.”

Along the way, Moore said, he has received invaluable assistance from a number of individuals, from investors to coworkers. 

“Some of our investors have been there like a sounding board or a cheerleader-type person when you needed them, and someone who can open up doors,” he said, and singled out Charlie Mickel as “one of the more hands-on types who has really been there for us since we formed essentially, almost. He has been great at opening doors and as a business connector.”

An aggressive plan for growth

Bubble Paper in 2023 launched a manufacturing facility in Indiana, joining the first plant, which is in Piedmont. Moore said plans for this year include opening an additional manufacturing facility in California, as well as one in New Jersey.

“This year, we’re prepping and building a lot of machines since we do that internally and basically on-site, so this year is going to be a massive expansion, and we foresee next year being the same way, and adding about four more states,” Moore said. “So, we’ll end up this year and next year with probably a total of eight states doing production of these sustainable-packaging products.”

Moore noted that such aggressive expansion is far from the current norm in the packaging industry.

“There’s not really a lot of movement in sustainable-packaging production with a lot of people setting up operations and growing that,” he explained. “I mean, people have been using the same packaging materials — look at the corrugated box — for years. This is a new-type thing. It’s exciting for us, to mass-produce in a number of states, grow extremely quickly — that’s where we’re at for probably the next couple of years.”

When it comes to regrets in his path to market, Moore offered an interesting insight: “I wish we could have engineered Bubble Paper sooner rather than later,” he said. “It’s not that we lost time in the grand scheme of things, but being able to hit the market sooner rather than later would have been great with that product, because it is getting adopted really quickly. Like, everyone is loving it. Having it sooner would have been great.”

What is Bubble Paper?

Bubble Paper markets its patented products as “better packaging for a better planet.” The company’s website, bubblepaper.com, describes the cushioning Bubble Paper plastic as providing “eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bubble packaging.” Among Bubble Paper’s attributes, according to the website, are:

·         It is natural paper that leaves no residue

·         It creates 20 times less carbon emissions than plastic wrap

·         It is curbside recyclable

·         It is biodegradable.

In addition to Bubble Paper, the manufacturer also produces Paper Icebox box liners that are used for shipping temperature-sensitive and cold-chain items. Its Paper Icebox liners are described as having a “low carbon footprint.” 

Want to learn more about Bubble Paper? Go to www.bubblepaper.com.

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Tamia Sumpter

Tamia is a driven senior undergraduate Bioengineering student currently enrolled at Clemson University. With a strong foundation in her field, she has honed her skills through hands-on experience in research and development at Eli Lilly & Company. During her time in the ADME department, Tamia contributed significantly by working on siRNAs and their applications in finding In Vitro-In Vivo Correlation (IVIVC). Looking ahead, Tamia has set her sights on a promising career in law. She aspires to specialize in Intellectual Property Law, with a particular focus on serving as in-house counsel for leading medical device or pharmaceutical companies. Her enthusiasm for this role is palpable as she prepares to embark on her legal journey! She is also a proud member of the Omicron Phi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., PEER Mentor for Clemson PEER/WiSE, and currently serves as the President of Clemson Bioengineering Organization (CBO). With her unique blend of scientific knowledge and legal interests, Tamia is poised to make a meaningful impact in the healthcare and life sciences industries.