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Corn starch packaging

26-Aug-2002

Australian company Plantic has solved the problem of packaging waste by developing a 'plastic' packaging that is dissolvable, according to a report in the The Australian.

The packaging is made of corn starch, making it edible, and has the consistency of plastic.

David MacInnes is the chief executive officer of Plantic, which was set up to manufacture bio-degradable plastic from plants."The consumer hates plastic waste. This is the first plastic you can throw out into your backyard and watch it disappear," MacInnes said.

"It is recyclable, compostible, biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Every box we can tick. It's the first one that can compete head to head with plastics."

The plastic was developed over seven years at a cost of A$ 12 million (€6.7m) by scientists at the University of Queensland, Melbourne's Swinburne University and the CSIRO, working under the umbrella of the Co-operative Research Centre for International Packaging.

Its secret ingredient is a selectively bred, high-amylose corn variety with a long molecular structure suited to creating plastic.

"Its basically plastic," MacInnes said."It can be any colour and it can be therma-formed into trays by industry standard equipment.

"The trays have been trialled successfully down high-speed manufacturing lines, so we know it's a very, very good product."

Besides normal consumer applications, the packaging is also aimed at the agricultural sector. Instead of just throwing away the packaging, it can be plowed back into the soil and used as compost.

Currently pressure markets are slowly moving the market away from PVC packaging, which means that alternative materials are now in big demand.

"There's a movement away from polystyrene as well, especially in Europe, for health and safety reasons," MacInnes said.

South Africa has banned non-environmentally friendly, thin plastic shopping bags, while countries like Ireland and Germany have introduced taxes to discourage their use.

With corn starch as its source material, Plantic's plastic is also cost-competitive. MacInnes claims that corn starch bags will cut the margins for biodegradable plastic bags by four- to five-fold, making them more competitive with regular plastic bags.

Demand is not the problem. Supermarkets in Europe and the United Kingdom are desperate for Plantic's products.

One British supermarket chain, "basically the size of the whole Australian market," has apparently told him they will take everything Plantic can supply.

The clamour for Plantic's product means the company aims to ramp up its production steadily. The wheels have just started whirring at its manufacturing plant at Laverton on the fringe of Melbourne.

MacInnes's plan is to begin with the Australian market, then tackle markets in northern Europe, Japan and the US.

With an international plastics industry worth €1000 billion, and 40 per cent of that in packaging sales, the CEO says his only problem is not to move too fast.

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