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Belu launches biodegradable bottle in mineral water market

By staff reporter , 29-May-2006

A UK mineral water company has launched the first corn-based biodegradable bottle in that country's market, linking its fund raising activities with environmentalism.

Belu Natural Mineral Water last week began the rollout of what it says is the UK's first biodegradable and compostable plastic bottle. The bottle is made from a corn-derived plastic provided by NatureWorks a Cargill unit. The bottle can be commercially composted back to soil in 12 weeks.

Over the past year packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics made from a variety of plants, in the main corn, based on projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally-friendly packaging . Some companies are predicting that the market will grow by about 20 per cent a year.

In addition, a combination of pricing and retail uptake has led more and more processors to look at biodegradable natural polymer products as an alternative to polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The sharp rise in the prices for petroleum, a major component of PET and other packaging plastics, has made PLA a competitive alternative.

All of Belu's profits go to fund clean water projects around the world. The new bottled water went on sale in 32 Waitrose stores last week and will be rolled out to other supermarkets. It is sourced from natural spring water and costs the same as the well-known brands, the company stated in a press release.

The company's glass bottle version has been available in about 150 locations in the UK.

Belu was set up as a commercial enterprise by environmentalists and companies to develop ways to raise funds for clean water projects. This group includes Gordon Roddick, John Bird, Ben Goldsmith, ?What If! Innovations, Clifford Chance and Lewis Moberly Design. The money raised goes to project WaterAid.

NatureWorks PLA and Planet Friendly Products helped make their bio-bottle along with Biota Spring water of Colorado, the first beverage company to use corn-based bottles.

As yet there are no commercial composting in the UK for such bottles, according to local media reports. The corn-based polymer comes from NatureWork's PLA plant in the US.

US-based NatureWorks is one the main movers behind the biodegradable packaging trend, with its introduction of polylactic acid (PLA), a corn-based polymer.

Companies like US-based Naturally Iowa have been using PLA for packaging products like organic milk. Retailers like Delhaize in Belgium and Auchan in France have also been testing PLA for various food packaging.

Others include Danish-based Danisco, which announced this year that it has produced a plasticiser from hardened castor oil and acetic acid. It is colourless, odorless and completely biodegradable.

Another company competiting in the biodegradable packaging market is UK-based Stanelco. The company markets a natural, biodegradable food packaging based on starch, called Starpol 2000.

Germany-based BASF has also announced it will launch a biodegradable plastic based on renewable raw materials in a bid to meet what it believes will be a growing demand for environmentally-friendly packaging. The company's Ecovio plastic is made up of 45 per cent PLA from NatureWorks. The other component is BASF's existing biodegradable plastic Ecoflex, which is derived from petrochemicals.

BASF forecasts that the world market for biodegradable plastics to grow by more than 20 per cent per year.

Food packagers last year faced price hikes of between 30 per cent to 80 per cent for conventional plastics due to the increased cost of petroleum. With the increases some bioplastics products reached full price competitiveness with the traditional oil-based packaging.

French retailer Auchan is testing the PLA in packaging for its fresh deli foods. The containers are part of the Mulit-Vit packaging line produced by Vitembal (France).

Il Melograno, Santarcangelo di Romagna of Italy is also using PLA for packaging its fresh-cut salads in clear, flex-fill bags.

Europackaging in the UK makes film bread bags from PLA. The bags allow steam to escape, so bakers can package items while still hot.

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