Growth of bioplastics concerns recyclers

NatureWorks’ production plant is headquartered in Blair, Nebraska.

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While bioplastics, made from plants such as corn, are being promoted as a green alternative to petroleum-based plastics, recyclers worry that mixing even the smallest amount with traditional oil-based plastics may cause severe contamination issues.

Bioplastic sales are growing, said Mary Rosenthal, a corporate communications leader at NatureWorks LLC, one of the largest producers of bioplastics. The Minnetonka, Minnesota-headquartered company has a production facility in Blair, Nebraska.

“Since commercialization in late 2003, we have seen triple and double-digit growth rates, year over year,” Rosenthal said. She would not reveal volume numbers for the 50/50 joint venture between Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. and Teijin of Japan. However, she said the current capacity of its Blair facility is 300 million pounds.

“We are now in­ a phase of expanding our plant capacity,” Rosenthal said.

NatureWorks produces a biopolymer made from natural plant sugars, which are fermented and made into lactic acid. The material is transformed into a monomer and polymerized into small plastic pellets. By replacing petroleum with a plant-based feedstock, NatureWorks uses up to 67 percent less fossil fuels to produce its plastics.

“NatureWorks’ biopolymer provides all the performance characteristics of traditional polymers, without being made from oil,” Rosenthal said, noting that it is made from 100 percent renewable resources, acquired through traditional feedstocks.

NatureWorks biopolymer, marketed under the Ingeo brand, is used to create a variety of different end applications, including bio-based packaging, fibers, durables, service-wear, apparel, hygiene products, and products for the home and garden.  more


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