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Austin startup has big dreams for eco-friendly glassware

Austin American-Statesman logo Austin American-Statesman 10/18/2021 Lori Hawkins, Austin American-Statesman
Sarah Scott Mitchell and Ernesto Humpierres are founders of Neutrall, a line of glassware that is upcycled, which involves taking discarded items and repurposing them into new products. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL] © [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL] Sarah Scott Mitchell and Ernesto Humpierres are founders of Neutrall, a line of glassware that is upcycled, which involves taking discarded items and repurposing them into new products. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL]

An Austin husband-and-wife team is aiming to promote conservation and sustainability one drinking glass at a time.

In June, Sarah Scott Mitchell and Ernesto Humpierres launched Neutrall, a line of eco-friendly glassware that is upcycled, which involves taking discarded items and creating something new from it in its current state.

The process is different than recycling, which breaks down material and processes it into a new substance. With upcycling, think chewing gum wrappers being turned into handbags.

The first product launched by Neutrall is a line of drinking glasses made entirely from discarded glass and shipped in sustainable packaging. Prices start at $23.99 for a set of two eight-ounce green-tinted glasses. The company is adding additional pieces including bowls.

Today, only 33% of all glass food and beverage containers in the U.S. are recycled, according to the Glass Packaging Institute. Neutrall gets its glass from a network of restaurants and bars in Montgomery, Texas, that otherwise wouldn't have recycling programs. 

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"We have a partner that does pickup," Humpierres said. "Instead of throwing discarded bottles in the trash, they put them in our bins and we recover them."

The American-Statesman recently talked with the company's founders. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

How did the idea for Neutrall come about?

Mitchell and Humpierres’ twins were given some small swiss glasses as babies several years ago. When one broke, they weren’t able to find a replacement.

The couple already had an eco-friendly e-commerce startup called Nestani, which they launched in 2017 to sell reusable heating and cooling packs. The packs, made of dry cherry seeds, can be warmed in the microwave or cooled in the freezer for hot and cold therapies.

Austin-based startup Neutrall has launched a line of eco-friendly glassware made entirely from recycled glass. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL] © [CONTRIBUTED] Austin-based startup Neutrall has launched a line of eco-friendly glassware made entirely from recycled glass. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL]

“We had been discussing adding other products to the portfolio, so the small glasses entered the discussion,” Mitchell said. “The idea evolved over a couple years, and ultimately became an entirely new venture, with a very specific mission.”

Who are Neutrall's founders?

Mitchell was born and raised in Austin and has a master’s degree specializing in habitat assessment from Texas State University. She is currently executive director of Cook’s Branch Conservancy, a vast nature preserve in Montgomery County, she helps restore natural ecosystems.

Humpierres was born in Oregon and raised in Venezuela, where he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After earning an MBA from Harvard, he moved to Austin for a startup in 2015. He is now director of customer success, strategy and planning at VMware.

Who are Neutrall's customers?

“Neutrall’s customers value minimizing waste, lowering their carbon footprint and being good stewards of the earth,” Humpierres said. “They are also practical, and solution-oriented. Applying their values to each purchase they make is one way to make a difference.”

Reducing plastic use and exposure is important to the company’s customers, the founders said. Neutrall has built a Montessori following, as the method of education encourages using glass with children to teach consequences and care. “Our original 8-ounce cup is the perfect size for kids to use comfortably,” Mitchell said.

Investment: Neutrall has been entirely funded by using profits from Nestani to bootstrap the business. “We’ve considered that as we grow, we may need funding to scale significantly,” Humpierres said.

In June, Sarah Scott Mitchell and Ernesto Humpierres launched Neutrall, a line of eco-friendly glassware that is upcycled, which involves taking waste and creating something new from it in its current state. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL] © [CONTRIBUTED] In June, Sarah Scott Mitchell and Ernesto Humpierres launched Neutrall, a line of eco-friendly glassware that is upcycled, which involves taking waste and creating something new from it in its current state. [CONTRIBUTED BY NEUTRALL]

Biggest challenge: “Reaching its niche market and effectively telling the story of the value of the glasses,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great story, that with each purchase you are literally keeping items from the landfill, creating jobs and furthering land restoration.”

Additionally, the company operates at a small scale and its manufacturing process is high touch. “Each glass is handled seven times before completion,” Humpierres said. “That translates to high production costs, as we are committed to creating quality jobs with fair pay and benefits.

Shipping costs are another challenge, he said: "Until you reach high shipping volume, costs are steep for heavy packages. We’ve iterated our package design several times to optimize for the shipping hurdle.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin startup has big dreams for eco-friendly glassware

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