SCOBY Doo: Plastic Substitute from Kombucha.

February 18, 2022


Kombucha is produced by fermenting sugared tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) commonly called a “mother” or “mushroom”. The microbial populations in a SCOBY vary. The yeast component generally includes Saccharomyces cerevisiae, along with other species; the bacterial component almost always includes Gluconacetobacter xylinus to oxidize yeast-produced alcohols to acetic acid (and other acids).[7] Although the SCOBY is commonly called “tea fungus” or “mushroom”, it is actually “a symbiotic growth of acetic acid bacteria and osmophilic yeast species in a zoogleal mat [biofilm]”. The living bacteria are said to be probiotic, one of the reasons for the popularity of the drink.

I often tell my daughter that her Grandpa was the first Millennial.
Back in the 80s Dad, who headed his small town law practice till he was 75, (then road a bicycle across the US, another story) heard about Kombucha, started growing his own SCOBYs, and shared the purported health drink with all of us, which I thought was pretty damn cool.
Nowadays, any self respecting office space in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco will have Kombucha on tap as a regular perk, right next to the ping pong table. There’s some in my fridge right now.

But wait, there’s more.

Houston Chronicle:

From your favorite yoga pants to your cozy fleece or trusted sneakers, chances are you wear a little bit of plastic every day.\

The fashion industry is awash with plastics with some studies finding nearly half of fast-fashion women’s clothing brands are made of new plastics like polyester, acrylic, nylon and elastane.

The ubiquitous presence of plastics in fashion didn’t sit well with Zimri T. Hinshaw, who was studying economics at Temple University in Pennsylvania when he was setting out to start a luxury fashion company.  While researching, Hinshaw stumbled on the idea of making materials from kombucha – a type of fermented tea. Specifically, the base of kombucha known as SCOBY, a rubbery ingredient made when bacteria or yeast form a culture in the right environment.  With some experimenting, Hinshaw found you could combine this material with other plant-based ingredients and polymers to create a leather-like substance. 

He started drying out sheets of SCOBY under his roommate’s bed in his dorm room, eventually launching his own startup in 2019, called Bucha Bio Inc. He became a self-taught novice scientist, and participated IndieBio, a startup accelerator by the venture capital firm SOSV aimed at providing biotech startups with funding and mentorship. What started as a fashion company quickly broadened as Hinshaw found the substance could be modified and used in place of polyurethane, latex, vinyl and epoxy in packaging and even hard construction materials. 

Now, with fresh funding and recruits from oil and chemical firms, Bucha Bio is setting a new headquarters in Houston, laying the groundwork of what Hinshaw hopes will become a growing biotech brand.

“We’re in Houston because we’re trying to tap into the existing chemical infrastructure here,” said Hinshaw, 22, in an interview. “We’re actually using the same equipment that plastics manufacturers use, but our materials are ones that don’t kill the planet.”

Hinshaw is relocating from New York City, but he became familiar with Texas when he spent part of his junior high school years in San Antonio. But it wasn’t just his Texas connections that made him interested in Houston. After consulting with some mentors, he realized Houston could put him at a hub for the plastics industry where he’d have access to the tools and talent to support his startup.  A business-friendly environment and burgeoning green-tech ecosystem in the city helped too.


US biomaterials company Bucha Bio, which makes textiles and composite materials from bacterial nanocellulose, has announced a move from New York City to the world’s energy capital, Houston.

Bucha will open its new headquarters at the city’s East End Maker Hub. The company chose Houston from over 20 locations due to its access to venture capital, existing polymer and chemical manufacturers, hiring potential, and top-tier local universities.

Bucha says it has already signed on senior scientists with experience in the oil and plastic industries, claiming these skills are “perfectly suited to biomaterials”.

Bucha Bio’s materials, which include animal-free leather, are fully biodegradable and infinitely renewable — countering claims by the leather industry that vegan alternatives are not environmentally friendly. The company says its leather alternative, recently rebranded Shorai™, is durable, resists tearing, and has all the same properties as animal leather. There are currently over a dozen prototypes of the luxury textile in production.

In October, Bucha raised $550K to help scale its products. The company has also recently been accepted as a member of Greentown Labs, which claims to be “the largest climatetech startup incubator in North America”.

“Bringing world-class energy transition companies like Bucha Bio to Houston is a win-win; not only is Bucha positioned to tap into a diverse talent pool from Universities such as Rice, University of Houston, and Texas A&M, but a wealth of extant talent which is looking to transition their careers. Zimri and his team bring more than technology to Houston, they bring the knowhow, vigor, and network it takes to build a meaningful disruptive technology company,” said Jason Ethier, Sr. Director of Memberships at Greentown Houston.

One Response to “SCOBY Doo: Plastic Substitute from Kombucha.”

  1. A boutique niche. It can’t scale up and you wouldn’t want it to. Better to make plastic from fracked gas than use up all that land water and fertilizer. This is similar to how Michael Shellenberger has pointed in Apocalypse Never why it’s better to make plastic glasses than tortoise glasses from turtle shells.

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