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NatureWorks conference: Innovation, collaboration drive PLA’s success

Conference on PLA covers issues from ‘resin to retailer.’

ITRLogo.jpgAt NatureWorks LLC’s April Innovation Takes Root 2010 (ITR) conference, the message was clear: Biopolymer’s time has come, and innovation and collaboration are the keys to continuing its forward momentum. As NatureWorks president and CEO Marc Verbruggen told the 320 to 350 attendees at the Dallas event, “Biopolymers are here to stay. They meet a strategic need to shed our oil addiction, they meet a strategic need to lower our carbon footprint, and they meet global consumer expectations for sustainability without sacrifice.”

Originally launched in 2008 as a users’ group of sorts, focused on technology, this second staging of the event sought to cover a broader range of issues, “from resin to retailer,” explained Steve Davies, NatureWorks director of marketing and public affairs. In this spirit, it offered eight tracks and 40 presenters, speaking on a myriad of topics, including commercial applications, technology innovations, regulations and standards, sustainability marketing, and the green consumer profile.

Evident was the engagement and collaboration that has moved the market for polylactic acid forward. Said Verbruggen, “When it comes to new applications, it’s not just NatureWorks making changes and innovations, it’s additive suppliers and converters making changes to enhance the properties [of Ingeo]."

One notable development in the PLA story is new infrastructure to recycle the material. Plarco, Inc. is the first company in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to recycling post-consumer and post-industrial PLA back into lactic acid. New venture BioCor plans to buy and resell post-consumer and post-industrial PLA for use in a variety of end markets. And in Belgium, Galactic has developed the LOOPLA® system for chemical recycling of PLA back into lactic acid. Said BioCor president Mike Centers, “PLA has a good front end story; now there’s a good back-end story as well.”

Other initiatives being undertaken to encourage growth and acceptance of the biopolymer include NatureWorks’ participation in an ASTM working group to re-evaluate the Resin Identification Coding system and a number of technology advancements by additive suppliers to enhance the properties of PLA for new applications.

Other highlights of the event included presentations from pioneering brand owners and converters who have made the PLA plunge. These include Frito-Lay with its 100% compostable snack bag for its SunChips snack chip brand; Snyder’s of Hanover, which recently launched a 90% bio-based bag for its organic pretzels line; International Paper Food Services, with its ecotainer® plant-based foodservice disposables; and Target, which is now using PLA in its bakery packaging.

Summarizing the value of all of NatureWorks partnerships in advancing the industry, Davies said, “We are a resin producer. This is the amplification factor that is making it work.”

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