Peter Forhan is the founder of two companies Puracycle and Wavehalo
A conversation with Peter Forhan Inventor and founder of Puracycle and Wavehalo
by Blue Fletcher/19th-September-2020
So before we start, do you want to tell us a little about Puracycle and yourself?
Absolutely, so starting with myself. I’m in the US, of course, I was studying Material Science, Materials Engineering. While I was a student I was also working jobs in the dining hall, so anything from being a cook, to cleaning floors, to clean dishes. There are so many things that I saw in the kitchen and the foodservice environment that were either wasteful, or frustrating to use, or overly expensive.
And I’m like, huh, it seems weird that all these things exist still, even for this massive university that has all these resources.
So I got really obsessed with figuring out new ways to approach foodservice products, with a Material Science lens. So what that led to is while I was a student, during the few years of university, I was able to use my Material Science lab that I had access to, in order to start tinkering around with different products and figuring out what can be made more sustainably, more effectively, or incorporating reusability into the product. And of course, the first thing that I tackled was the issue of single-use labels.
For those that don’t know they are labels that go on the outside of food containers that mark the expiration date and the name of the product, that historically would always be applied and then as soon as that bin was empty the food labels would be removed, and you do that every single time that you had any been going through. Of course, I identified that having one label on that’s written on, that can be erased like a whiteboard clearly was easier for employees.
And huge in the realm of sustainability because you’re only using one label, rather than hundreds of single-use labels, then other benefits made themselves clear as I launched the company. So the same month that I graduated college, I had my Material Science Engineering degree, I attended a trade show in Chicago called National Restaurant Association show, it’s a big one that happens every year. I was blown away by how many other people were experiencing the same problem. It wasn’t just me in my dining hall, it was large companies and corporations that all had the same frustrations with single-use plastic and single-use labels. So I spent the next two years getting international distribution set up, reading and working with Pro Food Reps, Andy and Ross – who are fantastic, cannot recommend and speak highly of them enough. They really plugged me into the European and Australian network and helped me establish the US distribution side as well. So at this time, we were first building out our catalogue with our products, with other label offerings. We were creating samples, attending trade shows, really just getting this product option available to customers out there.
Such a clever idea to start off, using the labs at your university. It’s basically like having a free lab I can imagine. Such a clever way of doing it.
Absolutely, what was funny too was that technically I wasn’t allowed to be using the labs for independent projects. So I had to submit tickets as if I was doing a school project during the time so that I didn’t have to pay the extortionate fees. But, no you’re supposed to do it independently. It’s all cleared up with my professor, there are no hard feelings between me and the University, but it was a kind of funny.
It’s very logical.
Yeah it was very much like a rouge science.
I need to ask you about your other brand, which I’m definitely not going to pronounce correctly, Archimedes is that correct?
Explain what that involves because that looks so interesting.
Absolutely, so this is kind of a play-off of what I learned in college, with my Materials Engineering degree. It really began with a frustration of mine, as some of these things do, it actually began with laundry. So I was incredibly annoyed and fed up with how bad laundry was, I was wearing clothing that rarely smelt, didn’t really have a lot of dirt or grime on it. Yet no matter how dirty something got, I was putting it into a washer for 40 minutes with soap and chemicals, in water and then spending energy and money to try that. And the apartment building I was living at, the laundry options that were available was $4 US dollars of all quarters. So I had to get coins and arrange all this stuff and I was like ‘surely there’s got to be a way to blast clothing with light and energy’. I had known about germicidal light and specifically UVC light from my time at university. So I kind of, just as a hobby, basically began building, for myself, a laundry machine. It incorporated really, really high powered germicidal light into an enclosed space where I could put clothing, backpacks and shoes and anything else inside. [It was paired] with high powered energy to get a deodorising and sterilising effect, and it works for me. I’m like ‘great I can do way less laundry now’. Of course, if I still have dirt, grime or stains – that’s why we have washers and dryers but for everything else like sweat, odour and mildew, that can really be solved with light.
Off a tip from a friend, they recommended or, they told me about state-sponsored grants. So the state trying to funnel money into sustainable or innovative products that can help people and so I offhand applied for this grant. I walked into the building to ask how I apply and three days later they the state gave me the grant to do the laundry machine. I’m like ‘oh okay, thank you thank you state’, it happened very quickly. I just used that money to sort of get some foundational stuff sorted, on the safety and IP side. But very quickly I was using and using the laundry machine as a common thing, people would come up and ask about ‘but what if you stood inside that machine, how much would it hurt your body or affect you?’. The quick answer was no it’s dangerous and all these different things, but there is a much more interesting longer complex answer that I want really wanted to investigate. So I did a big research deep dive, compiling everything out there about germicidal lights and safety, dangers, everything that pose to the skin. What I found by connecting dots of decades of research was that yes germicidal light can be dangerous to the skin, but different parts of the body are differently attune to UV. So specifically in the case of hands, is that if you have a certain wavelength and a small enough dose, which is the total amount of energy on that surface. So a certain wavelength and a small enough dose they actually exist a range of value enough energy to clean germs on the surface of a hand, but not enough energy to affect the living tissue underneath the dead skin cell layer on the hand. So this is kind of like end of 2019, and I’m like ‘ah I’m going to start doing this personally because I was interested in it, [like] human trials on my body. So my 2020 mission is I have these values and I know the science now, I’ve got a lot of backing and so starting right in 2020 I replaced body soap, deodorant and face wash in my life just with light. In all of 2020, I have you is not used any body wash, any face wash, any deodorant, I have very sterile skin. And of course, that was my personal side of investigating it and a big focus was on hand cleaning. I have noticed from my time in the foodservice and experience with Puracycle,
hand washing is a hugely important factor and something that takes a lot of time and a lot of people do incorrectly and it’s very wasteful. You know, like water, soap, paper towels, new gloves, water, paper towel, new gloves… and of course there was a vacuum were all we were trying to do with generally was disinfect the germs on hands or the gloves. So I kind of had this product, I’ve got a second state-sponsored Grant at this point. And then the pandemic happened and suddenly within a week of learning about COVID our entire state and our entire country, which I’m sure is similar in the case of the UK, was shut down and suddenly the entire focus of the world was ‘we got a kill the germs consistently, quickly and every single time something happens’. We were staying at home for months and even now nothing is open in our community. So pretty quickly there was a lot of customers interested in general, in new fascinated ways to disinfect bodies and devices. One of the big things in that was that you know, we’re always cleaning our hands but we forget about our third hand, which is, of course, we don’t clean every time. We don’t go to the bathroom and be like ‘did you clean your phone?’. Of course not. So with light one of the benefits is that you can do all three at once, passing them through light is much easier for devices than running water or soap over them.
I never even thought of that.
Yeah and that’s kind of a big thing, I’m sure the decade of 2020 will teach us that we’ve added new things to our lives but we never really updated our hygiene for them. And of course, that major thing being our phone. You can have germs, viruses, moulds and bacteria building up on there but you should really be cleaning your phone as consistently as you’re cleaning your hands, just speaking logically. What you’ll find in the foodservice, hospitality and all these places where you have customer interactions with employees, is you know we’re kind of at this day and age when you interact with them and then that person will go on their phone, put in a text and put it away really quick. Your fingers are compromised then, you really have to have a method and a means of cleaning those. So of course, light can accomplish that. Personally, because it’s affected my life so much, and of course this completely unpredictable global pandemic happening as well, I very much believe that germicidal light and skin safe germicidal light will be one of the biggest fundamental changes of human behaviour in this entire decade. It’s so sustainable, so cost-efficient, it’s easy and it just looks really cool to use, that it’s almost hard to ignore the impact that it’s going to have on the world.
By the way that you explain it, there are so many pros and it makes complete sense as to why we would move from hand washing, which does actually create a lot of waste when you think about it. Just something that you can then go and clean multiple things with, like your phone, as well like you said. It’s crazy.
Absolutely, it’s a great point it’s not just handwashing too. When you’re using light, or halo specifically, in a device set up to administer certain doses of light you can clean things like phones, menus, forks and knives. Whereas a lot of those things are difficult to clean with our traditional methods and what we found, most through internal efficacy and the research out there from CDC and different institutions. Is that hand washing yourself with water, while it’s a recommended thing to disinfect your hands, it’s not very good at doing it. Hand washing as it relates to germ removal is surprisingly bad a germ removal but we assume that if you wash your hands for 20 seconds in hot water that your germ-free. This is not the case, you’re probably looking about 60% removal. Which in the scale of how germs replicate and how are viruses can replicate, only need a small amount to have an infection of them. You really need to be having much higher levels, so if you see what real handwashing looks like, a surgeon going in before surgery, that is a several minute process involves really scrubbing are really getting in there. Where if you’re asking a toddler or a teenager or someone with arthritis to wash your hands really well, or a food service employee who’s really busy, it’s hard to get that level of cleaning actually required with soap and water. Whereas with light it ‘zoop zoop’.
I like the sound effects.
So would you consider sustainability a main priority when thinking about business now?
So absolutely yes and I think that specifically now with COVID, it has shown us what an existential threat looks like, even more so. I think a lot of times sustainability its kind of been this buzzword and thing we strive for. Its good to do because we are helping the planet, where is now it’s like, here’s what can happen, we can have a worldwide event where things close down and many people die and it’s terrible. As a relation to sustainability and effects of on the climate and the climate crisis, its a completely different mentality now. If we don’t behave more sustainability or if we don’t change our behaviours or update our products, we are going to have other events that feel as big and as crazy as a pandemic.
We’re going to have more extreme weather or natural disasters occurring more rapidly and I think that now we’ve experienced it, sustainability has also this importance on how it can affect our lives personally. Outside of course cleaning up oceans and reducing waste. But also as it relates to the climate as a whole. So I’d say that sustainability should be incorporated into any business because if you’re not helping to produce a more sustainable environment, you’re creating more waste by introducing a new product. One, I think customer behaviour is trending away from that and seeking out more sustainable options. And two is we just have to reduce waste and do that through products and behaviour and incorporate more sustainable processes and procedures. Because now we see what can happen if we just continue on this completely consumption-based path, were going to approach a similar extreme to what we are under now.
Yeah, I totally agree with you. Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, this is now your time to say the last couple words and tell everyone what they can find you online.
Thank you Blue, I really appreciate you having me on. It’s always a pleasure to talk about sustainability and the future of the products in cleaning. You can find Puracycle products online at www.puracycle.co.uk, or.com for American listeners. Were available at Nisbets in Europe and Webster in the US. You can learn more about Halo and cleaning with light at halohandwashing.com.