From Plants to Plastic
As a teenager, Sharina Perry told her parents she was going to change the world before she turned fifty. Now, at age forty-eight, the Edmond resident is on track to do exactly that.
As founder and inventor of Utopia Plastix, Sharina has developed a plant-based plastic alternative that can be used just like conventional petroleum-based resin in the manufacturing process. It’s sustainable, affordable, and ideal for making any product currently made with petroleum plastic—from shopping bags to insulation to film to automotive parts.
Growing the Future of Plastic
Plastic products make a huge carbon footprint, but existing alternatives can create as many problems as they solve. Many of them use valuable natural resources, have high production costs, or don’t hold up well.
Sharina has found a better way. Instead of consuming slow-growing trees, Utopia Plastix uses common rotational cover crops that can be harvested twice a year. “The crops used to make Utopia Plastix absorb four to five times more carbon than trees, remove heavy metals from the soil, and add nutrients back into the soil,” says Sharina. “We use these crops as the basis for our polymer.”
Utopia Plastix is a blend of plant-based and petroleum-based material, so it’s not as expensive as 100% plant-based alternatives. Even better, manufacturers can use it without modifying their equipment, and they can make products at lower temperatures. This saves money and conserves resources, too.
Sharina isn’t a chemist or engineer. Like many inventors, she made her discovery by accident. She first became interested in plants for their healing potential. “I always leaned toward plants because my body had a hard time digesting lab manufactured vitamins,” says Sharina. “I also reacted to some medications.” She created plant-based alternatives that gave positive results, not just for herself but for other people, too.
When her nephew developed an incurable tumor, she began researching natural methods to shrink tumors. But she made other surprising discoveries along the way. “In studying plants, my research found that they could be used as alternatives to plastics,” she says.
She began experimenting with straws. Noticing how quickly paper straws fell apart in water, she created a more durable alternative in her kitchen. Then she enlisted experts to help her refine and expand the technology.
“It definitely wasn’t an easy journey,” she says. “There are a lot of things you have to address with plants that you don’t with petroleum-based plastics.” But after trial and error, she developed the versatile, affordable polymer her company creates today.
Her work is more than a job, it’s a lifelong calling. The granddaughter of an African American landowner, she grew up with a deep appreciation for the land and the environment. Her grandfather was a successful businessman, but Sharina saw people take advantage of him because he couldn’t read or write. “When I was younger, I didn’t understand disparity and injustice,” she says. “So to help me navigate what I was seeing, I would draw solutions and I called it Utopia.” The designs she sketched in her teens became the basis for the Utopia Plastix logo.
“I look back on my life now,” she says, “and I know my entire life journey was preparing me for this. It’s humbling.”
Sharina’s business model is as unique as her product. She’s the developer and creator of the Utopia Model, a sustainable ecosystem circular business model. The company controls its entire supply chain, partnering with farmers, processors, manufacturers, and distributors—all with the goal of giving back to the community and the environment rather than taking away.
Sharina’s vision goes beyond making a sustainable plastic alternative. Through creating opportunities for farmers, developing affordable products, and investing back into the community, she seeks to address not just environmental concerns but societal problems, too. “Utopia Plastix is a vehicle, a demonstration of what we can do if we’re intentional,” she says.
In recognition of her achievements, Sharina received the 2021 Vanguard Award for Environmental Excellence from Keep Oklahoma Beautiful. She presented at the National Black Farmers Association Conference last fall, and she’s a member of several change-making organizations, including the Oklahoma Governor’s Minority Business Council.
“I know I’m guided,” she says. “I’m able to see change, make the impact I want to make, and I’m able to do it God’s way. I believe God gives us everything we need to live sustainably.”Learn more at uptopiaplastix.com.