April 28, 2023

This startup just raised £20m to build 'the Tesla of plastics'

Imperial College London spinout Polymateria raises a Series B from Singaporean PE firm

Kabir Agarwal

3 min read

Plastic pollution is among the most pressing of the many environmental challenges the world faces. We use over 400m tonnes of plastic every year, and only about 10% is ultimately recycled. 

One UK-based startup is trying to combat the plastic scourge by becoming what the CEO calls the “Tesla of plastics” — thanks to its technology that helps plastic completely decompose in a year with no trace. 

Polymateria has just raised £20m in Series B funding, led by petrochemicals giant Indorama Ventures and Singaporean private equity firm ABC Impact. The fund’s founding investors include the Singapore state fund Temasek.


Polymateria plans to use the raise to accelerate sales and expand into new markets — specifically in Asia, where plastic pollution is particularly acute. 

What does Polymateria do? 

The company's tech is compatible with the usual manufacturing process for plastic packaging — specifically polyolefins, the kind of plastic used in both bags and for more rigid products like trays and cups. Together they account for about 50% of all plastics used in Europe. Adding the tech doesn't require any major changes to existing manufacturing processes and is compatible with existing recycling streams. 

“The way I think about it… we are the orange cordial that you put into water in order to make orange squash,” says cofounder and board member Lee Davy-Martin. 

Polymateria’s patented ingredient, which is mixed with plastic, has two effects. One ensures that the product remains “stable” and can be used for its original intended purpose. The other is responsible for kick-starting the “catalytic” process, where Polymateria’s biotransformation process breaks the plastic down into a “wax-type substance”.

The mix of these two components varies depending on the product it's being used for. The mix for a plastic bread bag, for instance, will be different from a detergent bottle. The technology is adaptable and can be tweaked to ensure that the plastic remains stable from anywhere between six months and three years — so you don’t get packaging breaking down on shelves. 

The startup was founded in 2016 at the Imperial College London, where it's still based. The first few years were spent developing the technology. “What we tried to build from day dot was something that could scale quickly with complete scientific credibility,” says Davy-Martin. 

Polymateria already has a partnership agreement with the Indian government, signed in 2020 to bring the technology to the world’s most populous country. 

Its packaging has been used in recent events like rugby matches at Twickenham stadium and the Chicago marathon, and by a branch of 7-Eleven in Taiwan. 

Tesla of Plastics? 

Polymateria’s “Tesla of plastics” tagline was coined in 2018 when BT's former chief sustainability officer Niall Dunne joined the company as CEO. In 2020, it hired a Tesla executive — Steven Altmann-Richer — as head of public affairs and regulatory strategy, as Polymateria believes governments will be key players in changing how plastic is manufactured.

“If you want mass-scale adoption, I think regulation is a core part of that. And I think governments are starting to wake up to the fact that they have to do something now,” Davy-Martin says. “It's businesses like Polymateria that need to give them the solutions.” 


But one of the challenges facing its adoption faces is cost. With Polymateria’s technology, there's likely to be an addition of 10-15% to the cost of packaging. “But it should not be material given the environmental upside,” argues Davy-Martin. 

Correction: This article was updated on April 28 to more precisely describe the manufacturing and degradation processes for Polymateria’s materials