Engineering News

Biopolymers - A Bridge to Zero-Waste Communities
Wednesday February 22, 1:17 pm ET

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Feb. 22, 2006--The introduction of biopolymers, combined with a growing infrastructure for composting them, may reduce the estimated 94 percent(a) of all plastic consumer products that currently end up in local disposal facilities in the U.S.

One of the potential breakthrough materials for helping achieve this goal is NatureWorks® PLA, the first commercially available polymer made from a 100-percent annually renewable resource - field corn. The resin is being used in a wide range of consumer packaging applications and is one of only half a dozen materials in the U.S. to carry the "compostable" logo certifying it will biodegrade and compost satisfactorily in active commercially managed compost facilities, which are being introduced throughout the U.S.

Because new plastics entering the waste stream have the potential to impact existing recycling programs, NatureWorks LLC, the company manufacturing NatureWorks PLA, has worked with Future 500, a non-profit research and technical assistance organization, to engage practitioners in developing short-term and long-term solutions to handling the PLA material.

Programs to understand the practical dynamics of market introduction are underway with two prominent recycling programs to demonstrate how this new product can be managed locally, kept out of the waste stream, and introduced without contaminating the recycling stream. This includes working with the City of San Francisco's recycling program and Eco-Cycle, Inc., a mission-based grassroots recycling program that serves Boulder, Colo.

"Eco-Cycle encourages everyone to support the growth of a new, cleaner industry called 'bioplastics,'" said Eric Lombardi, CEO of Eco-Cycle. "The technology of using 100-percent compostable materials for products and packaging has been improving every year; and the compost industry across the nation is helping to create the new community recovery systems needed to keep this material out of landfills and incineration. There are significant challenges to keeping bioplastic bottles out of the landfills, but we feel NatureWorks is sincere in its efforts to create new solutions to those challenges. The recycling industry has a successful history of dealing with new materials and now we all need to come together and help make the compostable alternative a true solution to landfill capacity problems at a local level."

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has also been part of the stakeholder process facilitated by Future 500. ILSR's broad interests are in the development of 'sustainable plastic' products as part of its Carbohydrate Economy program, in which bioproducts and biofuels made from plant matter replace fossil-fuel-based products.

"Biopolymers will play a critical role in the future zero-waste economy," said Neil Seldman, president of ILSR. "ILSR supports the bioproducts industry as it moves from infancy to commercial reality. We applaud the research NatureWorks is undertaking to keep its product out of disposal facilities in a way that complements local recycling and composting initiatives. Composting bioproducts locally creates a closed loop within the local economy and environment."

NatureWorks has taken decisive steps in stakeholder engagement and is the first company to actively work with industry groups in anticipation of market demand. In August 2005, NatureWorks LLC announced its buy-back program for bottles at the National Recycling Convention held in Minneapolis, Minn. Through the buy-back program, NatureWorks will buy post-consumer PLA bottles that have been sorted into distinct PLA bales meeting a predefined specification and resulting in truckload quantities (40,000 lbs.). The company will buy these bales at an agreed-upon price and route them to an appropriate end-of-life solution and/or post-consumer use based on geography of collection and prevailing market economics. This program allows a bridge to the development of a commercially viable post-consumer PLA market.

"Public comment and support as well as the time and work commitment to collaborate with us is deeply appreciated," remarked Dennis McGrew, president and CEO for NatureWorks LLC. "All the employees at NatureWorks are honored to have gained the respect of groups such as Eco-Cycle and ISLR. As a company we are committed to listening to our customers, consumers and community groups as we move from research to retail reality. As the biopolymer industry leader NatureWorks is dedicated to responsible growth and adoption--whether it is with a major brandowner or a small retailer - in North America, Asia, Europe or many other places around the world."

About Future 500

Uniquely qualified to conduct the 360 process, Future 500 forges links between corporations and stakeholders to advance global citizenship. With a staff of executives from both the corporate and NGO sectors, we are leaders in stakeholder engagement, pioneering the tools, strategies and processes that help disparate parties identify common ground, address society's critical problems, and effect lasting, positive change. Future 500 is based in San Francisco and Tokyo, with affiliates in China and Seattle.

Source: Future 500

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