GTR: The Quest for Eco-friendly Bottled Drinking Water with Primo Water

Published on February 19th, 2009 | by

Host Sean Daily talks about the process of greening bottled water by using high-quality, mineral-enhanced water and recyclable, compostable, plant-based water bottles with Dave Burke, President and COO of Primo Water.

Transcript

Sean Daily: Hi! Welcome to GreenTalk, a podcast series from
GreenLivingIdeas.com. GreenTalk helps listeners in their efforts to
lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors,
authors, and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical
issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies,
products, and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area
of your life.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of GreenTalk Radio.
This is your host, Sean Daily. We’re going to be talking about a very
important topic today, which is clean and safe drinking water and
bottled water. This is a very important issue. Many of you have seen it
in the news lately and for the past few years, it’s gotten a lot of
airtime. The reason this is an important issue is that the bottled
water industry is a $7 billion industry in the US. In 2004, the global
consumption of bottled water reached 41 billion gallons, which is up
57% from five years before.

According to the Earth Policy Institute, even in areas where tap
water is safe to drink, demand for bottled water is increasing,
increasing unnecessary garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy.
The US actually consumes 17% of those 41 billion gallons, which is more
than any other country in the world. So this is a very big issue, it
has a huge impact on the planet and on our lives. There are also issues
with regards to bottled water, their recyclability and things like
these.

So before I get any further into that, I want to introduce my guest.
He’s Dave Burke, he’s the President and COO of Primo Bottled Water and
Primo To Go. He’s responsible for the manufacturing, distribution, and
marketing of a new environmentally friendly Primo Water. The bottles
for which are actually made from plants rather than crude oil, so this
is something new.

In this episode, Dave’s going to talk to me and tell you why he
feels Primo and buying their variety of bottled water is a smart and
green buying decision. Dave actually comes back from a background–he
served as the Chief Marketing Officer for Pepsi and Vice-President of
Sales Marketing before that for Coca-Cola.

So Dave, welcome to the program.

Dave Burke: Hey, thanks, Sean. Thanks very much for having me.

Sean Daily: It’s’ our pleasure. Again, I’m very excited to talk
about this issue. There’s so many things, it’s even hard to know where
to dive in so, I guess, we’re just start. What I’d like to hear–we’ll
talk about the issues, I think, related to clean safe drinking water
and bottled water later. But why don’t you start off by just telling us
about the Primo bottle? I think one of the more intriguing aspects of
Primo is the fact that you’re using this plastic that’s based on plants
and not crude oil. So why don’t we just start there.

Dave Burke: Thanks so much. Here’s what I think your listeners might
enjoy, and it’s quite simply this – if every plastic beverage bottle in
the United States was made from this Ingeo natural plastic that Primo
bottles are made from, we would actually save a billion gallons of
gasoline a year. I know that sounds like a big, big number and even a
number that’s–if you will–somewhat hard to believe, but it’s actually
footnoted on our website. It’s something we’re excited to bring to the
marketplace.

Sean Daily: Interesting. So now, this Ingeo, is this something that
Primo, yourselves, developed the technology behind this or are other
companies using it or is it just you?

Dave Burke: Yes. The Ingeo is actually a special resin that was
formed by NatureWorks. NatureWorks is a company that’s a subsidiary of
Cargill and we are the exclusive users of Ingeo relative to bottled
water. You mentioned, Sean, very appropriately, how big this segment
is, it’s $7 billions and some would even have it as big as $10
billions. What a lot of folks don’t realize is even with all of the
issues that you outlined that are out there, this bottled water
category in the United States is still growing at 10% a year. Said in
another way, it adds about a billion dollars worth of retail value year
after year after year.

The interesting thing to ask when we were thinking about how could
we help in a different way, the three big consumer trends of
resealability, portability, and healthy or potable beverages, those
trends aren’t going to go away anywhere. They’re not going to disappear
and consumers have drive, as you know, virtually everything in our
society.

The unfortunate about the size of the category, as you know, is all
of those plastic bottles are made from crude oil, much with foreign
crude oil actually. For us, we thought, we ought to be able to solve
this problem or hope to solve this problem a different way. Why don’t
we go to the beginning of life rather than tackling the issues that,
frankly, had been difficult to tackle. Therefore, our bottle, as you
said it, is actually made from plants not crude oil.

Sean Daily: That’s interesting, I mean, it’s an interesting take on things.
It’s certainly important. I think, the issue needs to be tackled from
all sides. It’s fascinating to hear of a company that is going to
tackle it, as you said, on the front end, at the beginning. So I’m just
curious, too: Has Primo gotten involved on the backend in terms
of doing any kinds of educational campaigns or things like that? This
is to educate people about recycling the bottles or how these are
reused or anything along those lines on the sort of–I won’t say the
graveside of the cradle-to-grave part, you know, on the backend of
post consumption.

Dave Burke: I have a friend who might say, “Can you call it “the
grateful dead?” It’s just kind of a clever way to put it. The sure
answer is yes, and actually, we’ve done more than, I guess, an attempt
to tackle it. The other side of our company–if you will–is Primo
Water in three- and five-gallon containers. The unique thing about us
is those containers, you can actually buy from your favorite grocery
store, take it and use it on your water cooler at home. Then when you
bring it back to the grocery store, we give you a ticket and you get
50% off your next bottle. So all of our bottles, our three- and
five-gallon, 100% are recycled and zero percent end up in a landfill.
That’s actually the way we started our company, Sean.

Sean Daily: On the larger scale bottles.

Dave Burke: Yes, exactly. On the three- and five-gallon bottles, and
that business continues to resonate with consumers that, “Hey, I get
it. I can enjoy the great taste of Primo and I get to buy it where I
buy my groceries. I can bring it back and I’m confident that this
bottle will never end up in a landfill and get reused,” which is the
good news.

Specific to the bottle I described a moment ago that’s made from
plants and not crude oil, we actually have three end-of-life options
today, right this minute. It can be recycled. It can be biodegraded if
it is in a commercial composting facility. Let me pause on that second
one for a minute. By no means would we suggest that a consumer actually
throw it in their backyard. I think there are others–in Europe, they
tried to do this with some juice beverages as an example and suggests
that that’s actually not the right way to dispose of a bottle. It needs
to be in a commercial composting facility. The really cool story is
when it is, it’ll actually biodegrade in about 80-90 days–give or
take–and turn it back into inorganic substances. The third option is
it can be incinerated and turn into thermal energy, and that can be
done today as we speak.

It’s actually a great question, Sean. We also realize we are very
much at the beginning of bio-resin [xx] categories in the US. So we’re
working with the recycling industry and environmental experts to
improve and expand on these end-of-life options. This is way bigger
than a bio-resin conversation, but we certainly stand for recycling,
we’d like more recycling options. We know that four out of ten
Americans don’t even have curbside service in the US today, which is
hard to believe. We certainly stand for more recycling of everything
and more often that we use.

Sean Daily: OK. Now, if you don’t mind, I was going to switch off
just a little bit here, still sticking with bottled water. One of the
other reasons that the bottled water industry has gotten a black eye of
late has been with regards to some of the testing that has been done on
the quality of various bottled waters, some of the larger product lines
that are out there. In some cases, it’s come to like that, for example,
the quality of the bottled water that you’re paying $3 for whatever it
is, is equal or even inferior to what would come out of the tap, in
some cases. Of course, that depends on where you are and your tap.

But I’m just curious about Primo, in regards to where are you, guys,
sourcing your water? Is it municipal water? What’s the deal there?

Dave Burke: Yes, it’s a great question. We start with municipal
water, that’s absolutely true. I think the bigger question is, “What do
you afterwards?” So does your favorite beer or softdrink, by the way,
which is kind of interesting, but to me the question is really what is
done to it afterwards. For Primo, that answer is, we take our particles
down to the lowest possible standard that’s available; quite frankly
way, way lower than municipal water standards. Then, we add back an
enriched mineral package just enough to give it a preferred taste.

I think, you know, I sort of alluded to this consumer trend to
continue to fuel the bottled water category, those trends really are
heading towards taste. I have a 14- and a 16-year-old–I don’t know
about you, but when I grew up, it was the water out of the fountain in
my elementary school, in my night [sp] public school in Northern
Virginia. My kids can delineate water today, and we got a whole
generation that can actually determine taste. We wanted to make sure we
absolutely had our taste profile nailed, and we actually went out,
Sean, and did a 6,000 blind taste test. We [xx] on blind, and we won
three out of four of those taste tests against the leading spring water
in the country and we won four out of five against tap water. So taste
is an incredibly important indicator here, and we think we got that
part nailed.

Sean Daily: Certainly, it is important and as a full disclaimer, you
guys, sent two bottles of Primo to us for this podcast to check out the
product. I’m actually drinking it right not as I’m doing this podcast,
and my engineer is drinking the other bottle. It has what I look for in
bottled water, which is I don’t want to taste anything, I wanted it to
just taste like clean water. So I’ll definitely give you, guys, props
for that. At least to my taste, it’s completely subjective, but it just
has that sort of clean taste, so I’m not tasting anything funky.

I’m wondering about how you achieved that. I know that
sometimes–I’ve been told in the past by people who are experts in this
that sometimes the cleaner waters, you can associate the taste with
what’s in it. There’s no way to really determine or make that kind of
distinction or connection between quality and taste of it. I guess,
what you’re saying is supporting this, which is taste is it’s own
vector, it’s own area separate from the health issues and things like
that. Is that true?

Dave Burke: Yes, I would say that’s right. It’s funny, to your
point, it’s tough but not impossible to get a water down with
essentially zero parts that a human tongue can determine it, it’s
certainly possible. The interesting thing when you do that is a lot of
people don’t like it. To your point, they actually do want a tiny bit
of mineral taste, and I think you described it as crisp, but we get
that phrase clean quite a bit, taste clean to me. The reality it’s
going to taste great, and clearly, it has to survive not just
government standards in terms of safety but the highest possible. We
certainly would intend to take a leadership position in that regard.

Sean Daily: That’s interesting. So it’s actually the presence
of–and I’m not going to call them, it’s not obviously not a
contaminant–but the presence of something not related to water. In
this case, the mineral is actually what many people associate with a
normal or clean taste.

Dave Burke: That’s right.

Sean Daily: OK. This is the experience I’ve had as I’ve tasted water
that didn’t have the mineral in it, it tasted funny to me. But it was
more sort of “clean” in that it was more pure water, but it didn’t
taste quite right.

Dave Burke: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Sean Daily: Yes, it’s very interesting. I don’t know what they do
with it but I know—but again, this is completely subjective, your own
mileage may vary out there—but when I go to Europe–I don’t know if
there’s a different flavor profile, taste profile that exists in
different parts of the world. But I know that a lot of the French
bottle water, for example, I don’t like Evian and Vittel and things
like that. There’s a particular taste to it. I’m not questioning their
cleanliness or anything, but there’s a taste to it that I know and I
think in that market, it probably goes over well, I don’t know whether
it does in this market. Is that true that there are different flavor
profiles?

Dave Burke: I think there is. I’ve actually never shared this with
anyone before, but here’s a thought your listeners might enjoy. If you
really want to determine a water’s taste–you know, kind of do it in
your own taste test, so to speak, on your kitchen table or what have
you–do it at room temperature. It’s very much like wine, you want to
involve your nose in that. What you’ll find with some popular waters
particularly of a spring background, they will have an odor to it which
comes out at about 55-65 degrees, and some other waters, too. When you
said, you’re [xx] pure water maybe you think of that because that’s
typically what you’ll find. But in order to truly measure taste of
water, stick it at room temperature in a couple of different vials and
I’ll bet you, your average family will have a different take.

Sean Daily: Yes, that’s very true. This is completely outside the
tangent, but I’m glad you said that about the wine because I always
have friends–I live in wine country here–and I always have friends
that–I’m not an expert, one thing I’ve learned is you don’t take white
wine and chill it past a certain point. At that point, you can hardly
even taste the quality of the wine. But I always have friends that
sticking in their refrigerator and saying, “Oh, this is just a little
too warm.” Really, just a little bit lower than room temperature is
ideal for white wines.

Dave Burke: Yes, you’ve got it right. That’s exactly right.

Sean Daily: So moving on, I’m also curious now. So obviously,
there’s two parts of your business – you’ve got the larger refillable
bottled waters, the kind people bring in and refill at refilling
station or things like that. Then you’ve got the single-serve bottles.
Are you, guys, right now, with the single-serve bottles–let’s focus on
that for a minute–is that a nationwide availability that you’ve got
with the Primo product there?

Dave Burke: Yes, thanks, Sean. Again, we’re excited to do this
discussion with you today. We’re brand new with the single-serve
bottles. We actually started earlier in the month of April, so we’re
not even a month old. We’re in 40 states today right this minute. The
good folks at Kroger, they have 2,400 grocery stores across the
country, out west you might know them as Fred Meyer up in the Portland,
Oregon area or Ralph’s down on the Southern California area or Smith’s
out in Utah. Those are all the Kroger family stores. They have Primo
water today, Primo To Go as we call it.

The other thing, you didn’t ask this but I’d like to hit on this and
it really goes to our notion of living green and of being
environmentally responsible. We never thought that the consumer should
have to make a sacrifice. While I certainly wouldn’t call it any other
brand, the notion of buying a hybrid vehicle today means I have to
spend a whole lot more money out of my pocket to do that. The notion of
buying compact fluorescent light bulb means I have to spend quite a bit
more than an average light bulb. I’m happy to do it but it involves
sacrifices as a consumer. For us, you can buy a case of Primo today
right this minute for $5 and we wanted to be affordable and available
right out of the gate day one.

A lot of “marketing experts,” Sean, say we ought to premium priced
our product and make it a niche and all that. Niche is not consistent
with our image and what our mission is as a company. We want to make
this–again, as I’ve said–available and affordable to everybody. We
will be more available this summer rolling up to your most well known
grocery stores and mass merchandisers are coming up here in June. We’re
really excited, we’re up to a terrific start, and we hope people give
us a look.

Sean Daily: Yes, great. Well, we’re going to take a break right
here, Dave, and we’ll be right back. Everybody hang tight, we’ll be
right back with “Green Talk Radio.” We’re talking about clean and safe
drinking water and bottled drinking water with Dave Burke, who is the
President and COO of Primo and Primo To Go. We’ll be right back on
“Green Talk Radio.”

[podcast break]

Sean Daily: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to “Green Talk Radio.” This
is Sean Daily, and my guest, again, is Dave Burke, and we’re talking
about bottled water. Dave is with Primo, he’s the COO and President of
Primo and Primo To Go. Dave, we we’re talking about the bottles used in
the water earlier in the broadcast and I wanted to just drill in a
little bit. We’ve been talking about the bottle, but I was realizing
there’s more. There’s the label and there’s the cap. Are those also
something that’s 100 %–are these non-petroleum based as well? What’s
the deal with those?

Dave Burke: Yes. I think, Sean, you shot a really good question.
Today right now when you purchase our case pack of Primo water, the
bottle itself, just the bottle is made from Ingeo natural plastic, from
a renewable plastic from plants. So today right this minute, the label
what we call the closure or the cap and the outer packaging still is
made from traditional petroleum-base material. I think the exciting
news is we’ve got developmental work underway on all those fronts – the
label, the shrink film, the closure.

I want to pause and challenge our listeners to think about this for
a second. When we get to that moment where 100 % of the packaging is
made from renewable resources and those resources ultimately are
recycled, and think about it being bottled water, we actually could say
we have the perfect product for the very, very first time. Your
grandkids, my grandkids could actually be drinking out of a completely
renewable, sustainable package in 2070 from plants grown in America
way, way back in 2005. That vision, at least with us, is not that far
away; it’s exciting for us to think about. So the short answer is,
we’re getting close to being 100 % packaging from renewable resource.

Sean Daily: OK. I guess, just to give fair time to other options
that are out there for our listeners that are listening in today,
another way that people are going is pulling out of the tap and using
filtration systems in some cases. There’s a lot of controversy with
regards to many filtration systems about whether they do their jobs or
not. So I’ll leave that up to you, the listener, to do your own
research on that, but certainly, it’s something to investigate.

First of all, it’s very important to get your water tested, no
matter what, before you go out and buy a filtration system. You need to
know what you’re trying to filter; the tap water in various areas
varies widely. You need to know what contaminants, if any, exist before
you start buying a filtration system to make sure that that filtration
system actually is capable of removing those contaminants. So something
important to mention.

Then, regardless of whatever water you’ve got, in terms of the
day-to-day carry around, there are products such as those from Sigg and
then KleanKanteen, which is OK. Those are two companies that use
basically, metal bottles—aluminum–it’s an impermeable alloy, and so
it’s another way to go. Those are other options there.

But again, you and I were talking before the podcast is that, this
isn’t really neither or issue, a good example is I, at home, tend to
carry around the Sigg bottle and we have a filtration system and such.
But when I travel, I can’t refill that easily, I don’t have my
filtration system, it’s just not convenient for me. So for example, at
the airport, they’re going to take away your bottle water as anybody
who travels knows very well. At that point, you’re buying bottled water
or you’re dehydrating.

I think it’s important to have these other choices, because
regardless of you’re feeling, if you’re 100 % bottled water person or
if you’re somebody who’s using it supplementally, whatever it is, I
think, we all want to have better choices for the container that is
being used and the source of that container and its effect on the
planet. So I think also another important thing here is to mention,
we’ve been talking about the other guys and the option exactly what
that is. I know that that goes by PET. Can you tell us exactly what a
traditional PET bottle, what that means, what that is, and where they
come from so everybody understands?

Dave Burke: Sure. It’s actually an acronym PET, believe it or not.
Sean, I’m not a Chemistry major so I’m going to butcher this, but it
stands for polyethylene terephthalate.

Sean Daily: That’s better than I could have done. [laughter]

Dave Burke: I was an old high school football player so I’d better
tell you what my IQ is. But that essentially is what every clear
plastic bottle that you and your listeners have ever held in your hand,
it’s essentially all polyethylene terephthalate. The fundamental source
of that is foreign crude oil and that’s where those bottles come from.

Sean Daily: I understand that the concern there is that it’s said to
lead to something called DEHA which is a known carcinogen, if it’s used
more than once. So particularly, there are concerns with regards of the
reuse of those bottles.

Dave Burke: Yes. That’s a tough topic obviously. I know the FDA came
out earlier this week highlighting all of the products that was in and
that again reiterating its safety. The most important thing is that
people are drinking more water. You hear about four or five people
walking around are dehydrated at any point in time. I know that because
weren’t a service economy anymore or we’re drinking too much of our
favorite coffee or what, I’m not sure, but we should be drinking more
water, period.

I’ll stay on the sidelines where the BTA is safe or unsafe. It’s
been in our marketplace, as you know, for the better part of four and a
half decades in a wide, wide variety of products in your home and in
your work life and in your food life.

Sean Daily: Yes, and to give a fair time to that, if you don’t mind,
we’ve talked about that with Nature Path, Elizabeth Large on the show,
and we talked about bisphenol-A, (BPA). Basically, it’s a polycarbonate
and it’s used by companies like Nalgene in the form of its brand name
Lexan, and that is said to leach the bisphenol–A. It is said to mimic
the hormone estrogen which is said [xx] disruptor which allegedly cause
chromosome damage and hormone disruption. That’s a view that’s widely
held in the scientific and medical community but there has, of course,
as always, contention with that.

Also to be fair–and we’ve talked about the Nalgene aspect on this
show before with regards to the Lexan BPA issue–it’s important to note
also that Nalgene has recently–they’ve got a big PR blackeye through
this process. They have now developed, in response, apparently a
BPA-free line of bottles and I wanted to mention that to our listeners
to, something I just found out about recently.

Dave Burke: Sean, I should say if I didn’t make it clear, there is no BPA in Primo To Go.

Sean Daily: That was what I was going to ask you. What about on the
other side? Primo To Go, I take that is that both the smaller bottles,
the individual size as well as the larger three and five gallons?

Dave Burke: The Ingeo natural resins–it’s a great question–today
is what we use for the smaller bottle, the Primo To Go as we call it.
We actually continue to explore ways possibly becoming–I guess, this
will be somewhat of an announcement, [laughs] I was unprepared for
this–but we’re looking at ways to possibly use the same natural resin
for a larger container like a three- or a five-gallon bottle which will
be really, really special for us. It sounds simple, just make it in or
bay or a container. I wish the world of manufacturing was that simple,
but we’re going to go down that path and we’re going to try a couple of
different things.

Sean Daily: OK. So for right now, in the three- and five-gallon,
you’re using the traditional bottle tapes that are…is that right?

Dave Burke: We are using traditional polycarbonate on our three- and five-gallon bottles, yes.

Sean Daily: OK. We’ll be interested to follow that and hear about
the developments there. I imagine, I think, it sounds like Primo, this
is another tool sort of in your arsenal that make drinking bottled
water potentially–as you put it before–something that is safe for
both humans and for the earth. So you, guys, are clearly a leader in
the industry right now with what you’ve done on the single serving, so
we’ll be interested to follow future developments on that side.

Dave Burke: All right, I appreciate that. Our hope is that if you
pursue great taste and doing something good for the environment at the
same time as opposed to either or, that a consumer, your listener,
would certainly take a look at Primo To Go. It’s a pretty special deal.

Sean Daily: Great. Do you have any other tips or information or
anything you’d like to leave our listeners with today before we sign
off?

Dave Burke: Drink more water, that’d be it.

Sean Daily: Yes. We are a chronically dehydrated society, that’s
true. A lot of studies say that and you would actually mused about that
earlier about why that might be. One of the things I’ve heard–I’m no
expert–but they’ve done studies where the symptoms of thirst don’t
come forward. Our bodies aren’t very well prepared to indicate thirst
to us in an early warning system. So actually, what happens is often,
it comes up as hunger, so that also can lead to chronic overeating
because thirst will initially comes forth as being hunger. It’s not
until you’re already completely dehydrated that you actually get the
signal of being thirsty and dry mouth and things like that.

Dave Burke: That’s absolutely very true, Sean. I coached [xx]
football and we’re telling our 11 and 12-year-olds to drink water and
lots of water before a game. You know, a 12-year-old boy, once they’re
halfway through and they’re dying of thirst, they’re not going to tell
you. It’s too late at that point, so it’s a great point.

Sean Daily: Yes. So it has to be really proactive and not reactive
especially with water. Yes, great. Again, my guest today has been Dave
Burke, he’s the President and COO of Primo and Primo To Go, the company
that has developed a line of bottled water that is based on plants and
not oil with the containers.

Dave, we really appreciate you being on the program today.

Dave Burke: Sean, thanks so much. Thank you for having me.

Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.
Remember, for more free on demand podcasts, articles, videos, and other
information related to living a greener lifestyle, visit our website at
www.GreenLivingIdeas.com. We’d also love to hear your comments, feedback, and questions. Send us an email at Editors@GreenLivingIdeas.com.


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1 comment

  • The Evolution of Biodegradable Plastic

    Biodegradable plastic is plastic that biodegrades into humus when disposed of, due to the action of the micro-organisms that turn dead plant life into humus, the organic part of soil. The result is a rich and fertile soil.

    There have been three generatons of biodegradable plastic. The first was starch based plastic, PLA, almost always made out of corn. The second generation was oxo-biodegradable conventional plastic, and the third, the current generation, is biodegradable conventional plastic.

    PLA, or corn-based plastic

    PLA, or corn-based plastic, was the first generation of biodegradable plastic. It is still made and promoted by corporate giants that have huge financial and political power, such as the Dow Chemical Company, Cargill, Inc., and Archer Daniel Midlands, but it has many drawbacks.

    It is billed as ‘sustainable,’ as it is based on food sources, primarily corn. However, if all of the disposable plastic products in the world were made out of corn, 150,000,000 tons of corn would be used to make plastic. Prices for corn would rise dramatically, and third world hunger would increase even more dramatically. There are currently 850,000,000 hungry people in the third world. If we imagine that condition worsening greatly, the result could only be a humanitarian catastrophe of appalling proportions. That is the real ramification of ‘sustainability’ in today’s world.

    Furthermore, PLA isn’t a very good plastic. It imparts an off taste to water when used for water bottles, it melts when used as soup spoons, it’s weak, and therefore items made of it are heavy, it has a short shelf life, and it often starts to decay before use, while still on the shelf. What’s more, almost no recyclers accept it for recycling. In fact, recyclers dislike PLA and are trying to ban it, because it gets confused with more conventional plastics, and ruins their recycled plastic batches. Even commercial composters have a very limited appetite for PLA, as too much acid (the ‘A’ stands for acid,) interferes with the composting process.

    The state of California is promoting this product by limiting the use of the term biodegradable, and all synonyms for biodegradablilty to PLA, which decays within 120 days in commercial (not home) composting facilities. Unfortunately PLA decays so fast in an oxygen-free (anaerobic) environment (typical of landfills,) that it generates methane in landfills before they are capped to tap the methane. Generating methane quickly in landfills is undesirable because it is a potent greenhouse gas. If it is generated before the landfill is capped, it outgasses into the atmosphere, promoting global warming. (Click to see video about using methane from landfills.)

    Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic, the Second Generation of Biodegradable Plastic

    The second generation plastic oxo-biodegradable plastic was very different than the the previous generation of biodegradable plastic called PLA, starch-based plastic, or ‘spudware. Oxo-biodegradable plastic had many advantages over PLA-It was invulnerable to water, one might adjust it to the desired biodegradation rate, some products could contain recycled content, it could be recycled, it didn’t diminish the grain supply, it was stronger, less expensive, and was made from an otherwise useless industrial byproduct, naphtha.

    This second-generation biodegradable plastic is little known in the US, but is is well established and widely used in Europe. Tesco and Carrefours, the largest grocery chains in the world, and in France, respectively, package their customers’ groceries in oxo-biodegradable ‘t-shirt’ bags. In fact, the largest bakers in Mexico and South Africa package bread in oxo-biodegradable bags, and oxo-biodegradable plastic is becoming common in India and China. The US is so far behind the curve on this, that it is a little embarassing.

    Oxo-biodegradable plastic doesn’t biodegrade when deeply buried in landfills, because it requires an initial phase of degeneration which required certain environmental factors-oxygen and one of the following three circumstances-heat, UV light, or mechanical stress-and because the subsequent biodegredation part of the degredation only works in oxygenated environments. These circumstances don’t exist when deeply buried in landfills, so oxo-biodegradable plastics don’t have any benefit for products deeply buried in landfills.

    The Third Generation of Biodegradable Conventional Plastics

    There is now a third generation biodegradable product which is the standard plastic we use daily, naptha based plastic, with an additive that will cause it to biodegrade without the need of heat, UV light, mechanical stress, or oxygen. This third-generation plastic is called biodegradable plastic, and it biodegrades when placed into the ground due to the action of micro-organisms naturally occurring in soil. We are now using the third generation additives in all of our products. It has all of the benefits of oxo-biodegradable plastics-it is recyclable, is invulnerable to water, one may adjust the desired rate of biodegeneration, some products can have recycled content, it doesn’t diminish the grain supply, and it is stronger, less expensive, and made of an otherwise useless industrial byproduct.

    Additionally, this new plastic will definitely biodegrade when buried in the ground in either aerobic or anaerobic environments, ie. in a land fill. Like PLA, this new plastic will produce small amounts of methane in a land fill if deeply buried, but not so quickly as PLA, and like PLA, it will produce small amounts of carbon dioxide as a result of the metabolism of micro-organisms if it decomposes in the presence of oxygen.

    With this new generation of biodegradable plastic, bidegradation is delayed long enough that there is time to cap the landfills, so the methane is burned off or even used to generate electricity, as is being done in almost 500 US land fills currently. Like all of our products, this new plastic is recyclable and completely non-toxic to people, plants, and animals, and is made of ingredients approved by the FDA for food contact.

    In our view, by using conventional biodegradable plastic we are following in the footsteps of the plains Indians, who used every part of the buffalo, the chief resource in their environment. We take an industrial byproduct that used to be wasted and turn it into useful packaging materials and other disposable items. Then the disposable items are turned into humus, to the benefit of the soil and the plants it nurtures. Waste gasses from the conversion process are then used to make electricity. We thus have progressed from wasting an asset to generating three benefits from it for people and our planet.

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