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In green packaging, corn replaces petroleum

USA: June 18, 2003

WASHINGTON ‹ Wild Oats Markets Inc. became the first grocery store in the United States to roll out a new type of green packaging which looks like plastic but turns into compost after disposal. Unofficially called the Corntainer in the natural food chain's 11 Pacific Northwest stores where it is being tested, the clear packaging is made from corn rather than petroleum.

Employees have been dishing up salads, cheese, desserts, and other deli products in the containers for the last three weeks and touting the product in the stores' marketing brochures.

Wild Oats is also giving consumers the option of returning the containers to its stores, from where it will subsequently be delivered to a recycling company in Oregon. The containers will be composted and made into organic soil, which will then be sold at its stores.

While the environmental benefits play well with green consumers, this product is one of several at the forefront of an approach using renewable resources in industrial applications. The product also brings together what may seem like unusual bedfellows: environmentalists and corporate entities behind the bio-plastic, like Cargill Inc. and Dow Chemical Co.

Advocates say that agricultural-based products like the new container reduce petroleum dependency, environmentally harmful emissions and landfill waste.

"The response has been fantastic," said Mark Cockcroft, regional marketing manager at Nature's, the Northwest unit of Wild Oats. By the fall, the company plans to roll out the container nationally to 77 stores. Although
the product costs 40 to 50 percent more than plastic packaging, Wild Oats is not passing the extra cost on to the customer. It expects the price will come down as the product becomes more widespread.


"We are very excited by Cargill Dow and other users of bio-industrial crops," said Mark Ritchie, president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a farm and environment research group based in Minneapolis.
"My impression is this (company) is motivated by people who know we can't go on burning oil and not destroy our climate," said Ritchie, whose group has been working with Cargill Dow and other companies to create a set of
sustainable farming standards for bio-industrial crops. These standards, he said, would emphasize renewing soil fertility, protecting scarce water resources, and reducing fertilizers and pesticides.

Cargill Dow LLC, the Minnetonka, Minn., joint-venture making the material, spells out its environmental mission on its Web site, where its tag line states: "Unlike every other revolutionary product, this one won't change the
world." The company has invested $750 million in the product and is selling it globally.

Aside from the containers, the raw material known as PLA, or polylactide, is being used to spin fibers for such products as mattresses, comforters, pillows, and rugs. This year, Cargill Dow expects to be at full capacity at
a new plant in Blair, Neb., churning 40,000 bushels of corn a day into 140 million metric tons (300 million pounds) of PLA annually. In the process, it will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 to 60 percent compared with the
conventional materials it replaces. Cargill Dow Spokesman Michael O'Brien said market studies show PLA could reach 1 billion pounds a year by 2013, using up one-half of 1 percent of the corn grown in the United States.

Cargill Dow is not alone in the market. Companies ranging from Procter & Gamble Co. to Japan's NEC Corp. are working on similar bio-plastic technologies.


Cargill began developing the process 14 years ago, fermenting the dextrose, or sugar, in corn syrup into lactic acid and then refining it into small pellets of PLA. In 1997, it formed a venture with Dow Chemical to market the
product and found eager buyers in Japan, where landfills are limited. It then entered Europe, where packaging producer Ilip began making a range of food containers. IPER, a European grocery chain, began using the containers in 21 Italian stores. O'Brien said another 1,000 European stores will soon announce adoption of the product.

In the United States, Seattle-based Pacific Coast Feather Co. began selling bedding with the fiber version of the product, known as Ingeo, a year ago."We were very attracted to the environmental benefits," said Fritz Kruger,
vice president of marketing at Pacific Coast. "It's on the front end of a very big trend."


This article was kindly provided by ScoWaste.


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