14 April 2008

PLA for Water Bottles in The States and Down Under

Natural Spring Waters Take to Corn-based Bioplastics

Water bottles from corn-based polylactic acid, which disappeared with the bankruptcy of Biota Brands of America Inc. last April, are reappearing on the U.S market and elsewhere. As Plasticsnews reports, Primo Water Corp. said April 7 that it began selling single-serve water bottles made from Natureworks LLC’s Ingeo PLA resin this month in 19 different grocery store chains, including 2,300 stores owned and operated by Kroger Co. in 40 US states.

Primo’s single-serve water bottles will have labels made from PET and caps made from high density polyethylene. The limited nationwide rollout comes after pilot tests Primo wants to “gain a significant presence” in the bottled-water market by differentiating itself from other companies, said Brian Glasbrenner, global business and market development manager for Natureworks’ Ingeo brand. He said Primo will use a regional strategy for distribution, rather than shipping bottles across the country.

PLA bottles made from Ingeo also resurfaced last September in New Zealand, when Corporate Water Brands Ltd. of Auckland introduced the Good Water brand made from Ingeo. Both Good Water and Primo are hoping that marketing water in an environmentally friendly bottle made from a nonpetroleum-based resin will spur their sales, as it did for Naturally Iowa Inc., a Clarinda, Iowa, dairy firm. Naturally Iowa’s all-natural milk sales have skyrocketed 80 percent since the firm began selling milk in containers made from Ingeo PLA eight months ago.

But Santa Barbara, California-based consultant Arthur von Wiesenberger, who founded the Bottled WaterWeb internet site, said Primo faces an uphill battle. “Being an environmentally sound product, there is a niche there, but I am not sure that it is one that can pay the bills,” von Wiesenberger said. There also is the matter of whether the taste and the product matches consumer expectations, he noted. Von Wiesenberger said there are quality issues including how the PLA bottle affects shelf life, how it will affect the taste of water over the entire shelf life, how it will do in warm environments, and whether it will retain its shape over time.

PET bottles today are recycled at a rate of about 25 percent in the USA, but there is little PLA recycling, despite a NatureWorks’ buy-back program. Greenplastics Inc., a product stewardship group in Auckland that develops recycling options for PLA, has cautioned people not to put PLA bottles out for curbside collection. The group contends that PLA can’t be commercially recycled until volumes are big enough to support a commercially viable recycling stream. In the U.S., there still are concerns of PLA contaminating the PET reclaim stream because visually the bottles look alike. But, the Center for a Competitive Waste Industry, a U.S. coalition of recyclers and materials recovery facilities, dropped its request for a moratorium on PLA use in bottles.

(Cf. news of 2008-03-06, 2006-10-30, and 2006-05-30.)

Source: PlasticsNews, 2008-04-11.

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