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Turning Food Wastes Into Face Masks and Home Disinfectants: The Successful Journey of Singaporean Woman Towards Sustainability
December 20, 2021
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With the number of global COVID-19 cases increasing so fast, combined with emerging spike mutations and variants, people protect themselves by wearing face masks and disinfecting their homes to reduce possible virus transmission.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, about three million face masks are being thrown away every minute that potentially contain toxic plastic, according to a recent study.
With the aim to protect people’s health and promote a sustainable lifestyle, Didi Gan, founder of N&E Innovations developed a way to dispose of medical waste.
The Story of Sustainability
Didi Gan is a Singaporean entrepreneur and founder of N&E Innovations, a medical technology startup company that taps current global medical challenges with sustainable solutions. A graduate of Biological and Biomedical Sciences from the University of Melbourne, Didi proved her expertise by using technologies to start her journey on food waste revalorisation.
In an interview with The Beat Asia, Didi shared that she used to work at a textile company owned by her mother. She was exposed to research and development (R&D) processes and spearheaded various projects involving sustainable products such as durable cotton with extended shell life, washability of leggings, and eco-friendly, non-toxic fabric dyeing methods.
Didi’s initial aspiration as a doctor and interest in biomedical science led her to learn more about the human body and health, and dive deep into R&D surrounding these topics.
“I have seen with my own eyes how pollutive and toxic some processes are. The amount of water and waste which are discharged into the rivers daily could potentially be hazardous if not treated properly. This led me to start my R&D journey to find an all-natural approach to solve this environmental issue,” Didi told The Beat Asia.
When asked about the most interesting part of her job as a CEO, Didi said she prefers the R&D thought process and experimentation. “My team and I are committed to researching and developing more innovative and cutting-edge solutions to safeguard future generations.”
Didi’s all-natural products were inspired by her grandfather, who runs a melon seeds and nuts business, and her aunt, who helps manage it. Being exposed to how the business operated, Didi witnessed a gap: large amounts of nut waste were just being thrown away or dumped into landfills.
“I wanted to make a difference and look into how to reuse food waste; to experiment and see if there is any potential use for medical science given my background in biomedical sciences,” Didi told The Beat Asia.
As a mother of two, Didi wanted to come up with natural and safe solutions for her kids who have sensitive skin and allergies, a coincidence since the products they’re developing are daily essentials for the pandemic as well.
Like other entrepreneurs, Didi experienced “countless setbacks” while developing their products. According to her, she had to tweak the solutions over and over again to make them more effective and appealing to the public.
Her team also struggled in finding a suitable place and laboratory to conduct R&D, scale up the production process, and store food waste waiting to be processed. The paperwork was also a challenge. The application of certifications by third-party research centres and organisations, documentation, and test results involved tremendous time and effort to complete.
The company experienced being on the brink of failure and debt during the initial stage, Didi shared. And then the rest is history. After a bumpy road, N&E Innovation achieved over S$800,000 revenue for their flagship products during their first year.
Sustainable Products and Collaboration
With the number of disinfectants available on the market, only a few of them are guaranteed organic and sustainable. Together with her team, Didi was able to develop antimicrobial disinfectants and N95 masks from food waste.
Called Vi-MASK and C2+, these products are non-toxic, alcohol-free, and a safer alternative to plastic- and chemical-based options offered on the market. N&E Innovation sources raw materials from various countries including China (for crab shell chitosan and soybean waste) and Vietnam (in collaboration with Europe’s savoury snack manufacturer Intersnack Group). The manufacturing process for their in-house products takes place in their office in Singapore, comprising a food innovation hub with essential equipment and state-of-the-art facilities.
To create more opportunities, Didi collaborated with different organisations and companies. With the help of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the disinfection of the majority of zoos in the city, including Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, was successfully conducted using the C2PLUS X Commercial Grade Disinfectant.
The company also joined forces with Singapore Airlines by providing a sustainable alternative to single-use face masks called the Vi-MASK NanoTech Anti-Viral Face Mask. Designed exclusively for the Batik Label by KrisShop, these sustainable batik motif face masks are available in black and navy.
Vi-MASK and C2+ Product Lines
The company continues to work on the product line expansion of Vi-MASK and C2+. This holiday season, N&E Innovations introduced Christmas-themed C2+ bundles that make for a perfect gift, even for kids.
The C2+ Christmas bundle includes an all-natural hand and mask soap, an all-surface natural disinfectant, a peach scent hand sanitizer, a reindeer pop-it sling bag, and more.
To purchase, go to the C2 Plus website and use the code TBA10 to enjoy an exclusive 10% discount. For the anti-viral nanotech mask, check out Vi-Mask website and enter the code VI-THEBEAT2021 to save 10% on your orders.
N&E Innovation’s Future Products
Didi shared that the company plans to continue working on antimicrobial compounds through a collaboration with other companies and organisations related to medical equipment, devices, supplies, and products.
They want to produce more products that provide an additional layer of protection and consumers use on a regular basis. Part of their future project is to come up with essential items made from cashew nut wastes, durian husks, soybean waste, and Scoby from kombucha.
Recently, the company endorsed a Memorandum of Understanding under NParks’ OneMillionTrees movement. The goal of this nationwide initiative is to plant more than one million trees across Singapore for the next 10 years. Under the project, NParks will plant a cashew tree in the city-state for every 1,000 bottles of C2+ disinfectant sold.
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