One day a little over 12 years ago a Spanish entrepreneur, Enrique Lopez-Pozas, was playing Airsoft when he was struck not by an opponent’s shot but by an equally uncomfortable realisation.
What, he wondered, would become of all the little plastic pellets being fired? And, come to that, what about all the shotgun cartridges discarded by hunters and sports shooters around the world?
Born into a military family, Lopez-Pozas grew up around weapons. And in his former career as the head of a hotel chain he saw the scale of plastic use and the pollution it causes.
“I realised we were leaving plastic in the environment that would remain there for ever,” he says. “And I realised we needed something biodegradable or we’d be storing up problems for the future. So I set about studying things.”
After more than decade of research and development, Lopez-Pozas’s company, BioAmmo, created 100% plastic-free, biodegradable and bio-compostable shotgun cartridges that are now sold in more than 20 countries.
The traditional plastic casing and plastic wadding – the layer that separates the powder from the shot – have been replaced with a vegetable biopolymer, and the metal base is a non-toxic alloy of copper and zinc designed to oxidise and disappear. Customers can choose lead or steel shot.
“Our cartridges’ uniqueness is that they are completely plastic-free,” says Peter Chatland, BioAmmo’s head of international markets.
“This obviously has important consequences for environmental sustainability across all shooting disciplines and sectors. For example: no plastic to contaminate the planet for hundreds of years, no microplastics to enter the food chain and no plastic to add to landfill.”
Chatland says relatively few of the hundreds of millions of single-use plastic cartridge cases shot each year are recycled, and fibre wads can end up polluting the countryside as they often contain bitumen and plastic.
He says BioAmmo’s cartridges, which hold a patent in 55 countries, can be consumed by micro-organisms in the soil within a year or two, thrown on a compost heap or added to organic domestic rubbish.
The firm employs almost 30 people at its factory 12 miles from the city of Segovia, and it is hoping to hire more staff when the pandemic slows.
“After 12 years of research and finally taking the decision to bring the products to the market, we ended up doing so in a year that was the worst for everyone,” says Lopez-Pozas.
“But it has given us time to be present in more than 20 countries, and we’ve made the most of it. We hope that orders will be very high [this year] when things return to normal. We export around 95% of our products because hunting and shooting has come to standstill in Spain and our sales here are minimal.”
BioAmmo’s biggest market is the US, and its biggest European market is the UK followed by Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Output last year was restricted to about 5m cartridges, but the firm is hoping to manufacture 10 times that amount this year, including non-toxic and non-lead shot loads.
As far as Lopez-Pozas is concerned, the days of the plastic cartridge are numbered.
“Plastic is a great material in some ways – it was designed to weigh little and last a long time – but humanity didn’t think about the fact that it’ll be around for ever,” he says. “That’s the problem, and one that we need to deal with.”