• Expansion on the horizon (l-r): Planet Protector chairman Peter Hofbauer, sustainability manager Lars Ljung, and CEO Joanne Howarth.
    Expansion on the horizon (l-r): Planet Protector chairman Peter Hofbauer, sustainability manager Lars Ljung, and CEO Joanne Howarth.
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In December 2023, Planet Protector Group closed a $12 million Series A capital raise led by the Mindaroo Foundation and the Victorian State Government, together with a cohort of other Singaporean-based impact investors. 

Planet Protector is the company behind the multiple award-winning Woolpack, an insulated packaging solution – positioned as a sustainable alternative to expanded polystyrene packaging – for shipping ready meals and temperature sensitive food, beverages, pharmaceuticals and life science products. The wool used in the manufacture of the insulating material comes from cross-bred sheep that are being raised for their meat rather than their fleece. This wool is not suitable for textiles and is ordinarily destined to landfill as it is deemed to have no commercial value. Planet Protector says it has successfully monetised this waste stream to create “an ingenious solution that is a building block for the circular economy”. 

Following this landmark investment round, the company is poised to scale its packaging operations and expand into new verticals with a focus on sustainable insulation.

Poised to scale up: CEO Joanne Howarth
Poised to scale up: CEO Joanne Howarth

CEO Joanne Howarth, who founded the company in 2016, tells PKN: “Having such high-calibre investors on board will accelerate our scale up because they have a vested interest in Planet Protector’s success.” 

Reflecting this shift into new verticals is the company’s new name: Planet Protector Group (formerly Planet Protector Packaging) to send a clear message that the scope of the impact it can make extends well beyond packaging.

Howarth says, “Polystyrene is ubiquitous. It’s not just used in cold chain packaging. It’s used expansively in acoustics, horticulture, geotextiles, building insulation and even the built environment. We have developed solutions for all these applications.” 

On the packaging side of the business Planet Protector is looking at markets beyond our borders. “Australia and New Zealand together represent just 1.3 per cent of the global market for packaging and the big opportunities for Planet Protector are in Southeast Asia,” Howarth says.

“The capital we have raised will be used towards establishing our manufacturing plant, which is located in Altona North in Melbourne,” Howarth says, noting that the site was selected because of its proximity to one of Australia’s two wool scours. Scouring is the first process to make the wool usable; it is the washing of the raw wool to cleanse the fibre ready for manufacture. 

New machinery being shipped to Planet Protector for its Melbourne manufacturing facility.
New machinery being shipped to Planet Protector for its Melbourne manufacturing facility.

“There is a huge concentration of sheep in New South Wales and Victoria, and like any responsible business, we are increasingly conscious of reducing our emissions – this was the driver of the decision to locate as close as possible to the sheep and the wool that is our raw material.”

Howarth notes that Investment Victoria, through its Investment Attraction Fund, was a significant contributor to the round.

“There is a wonderful ecosystem of disruptive businesses doing incredible things in Victoria, and we are delighted to be recognised as ‘best in class’ and to be part of this community. From here we will be able to serve Australia’s vast geography,” she says.

Planet Protector’s facility will be the only one of its kind in the country with capability to process 150 tons of fibre per week. This will enable them to offer contract manufacturing as a service to other businesses who are presently manufacturing offshore and wanting to reduce their emissions by onshoring their production. This includes bedding, furnishings, acoustics, horticulture, and building insulation.

“It is really exciting for us to be able to bring fibre processing back home to Australian turf,” Howarth says. “As Australians, we have an iconic relationship with sheep and the wool industry and we are delighted to be enabling other environmentally conscious businesses – using a range of fibres, including hemp, jute, denim, and many other sustainable materials – as the world transitions away from problematic plastics and reduces its reliance on China for manufacturing.

After the investment in the manufacturing facility, the balance of the funds will be invested in building Planet Protector’s team in preparation for its international expansion.

For the last two years, Planet Protector has been fostering strategic partnerships in India, targeting this as the first country for its international expansion. India manufactures 60 per cent of global pharmaceuticals and ships to 200-plus countries using polystyrene, according to Howarth. 

“India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a very assertive sustainability agenda and polystyrene is being phased out, so this is an outstanding opportunity for us to accelerate our impact,” Howarth says.

For PKN readers who have been following the growth and success of Planet Protector and its founder since the start-up days, this next leap to expansion will be followed with great interest.

Joanne Howarth and Planet Protector's sustainability manager Lars Ljung inspect wool at the scouring plant.
Joanne Howarth and Planet Protector's sustainability manager Lars Ljung inspect wool at the scouring plant.

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