Stroll through every hall at NPE2009 and you will find innovative products and technologies that show just how critical plastics are to finding solutions to environmental issues and making the world more sustainable. Resource conservation, renewable resources, recycling, degradability, solid waste source reduction, energy efficiency, elimination of pollutants, shrinking carbon footprints—virtually every visitor at NPE2009 now has a vital interest in one or more of these goals. Many exhibitors offer at least one technology to help achieve them, as do a wide range of conference presenters. If there is a central theme for NPE2009, it’s sustainability.
For example, the surge in growth of bioplastics — materials that are biodegradable and derived from corn, castor beans, soybeans, potatoes, tapioca, and other renewable resources – are evident throughout the show floor. Thirty-eight exhibitors offer bioplastics-related technology, from resins to specially designed additives and machinery to processed goods, and there are well over 50 conference presentations on the subject.
Plastics’ role in energy efficiency and generating new sources of energy are also well-represented at NPE2009. Fuel savings are the advantage cited for new materials and processing methods that yield lightweight or more compact products that reduce gasoline consumption. In addition, alternate energy sources increasingly require plastics as essential materials of design, and a number of NPE2009 exhibitors are spotlighting the role of their products in solar energy, lithium-ion batteries for electric-drive cars, and wind energy systems.
Exhibitors are also doing their part by recycling scrap generated at NPE as part of the NPE2009 Recycling Program. The huge bins filled with materials waiting to be recycled at the NPE2009 Recycling Center – right in the middle of the show floor in South Hall — are a testament to the effort. From 46 acres of carpet to 100,000 attendee badge holders and more, SPI has collaborated with RTi, Freeman, Maine Plastics, EcoEducators and other partners to expand the NPE2009 recycling program beyond the scrap from the show floor.
While press releases are not known for understatement, in a recent one I fell short of the mark when I declared that NPE2009 would feature “at least 16” exhibits relating to bioplastics and that there would be 39 bioplastics presentations in co-located conferences. People responded with information showing an even bigger role for bioplastics than had I imagined.
● Michael Thielen, editor of Bioplastics magazine, did his own count of bioplastics-related exhibits at NPE2009 and came up with 38. His list includes biodegradables, not all of which are bioplastics, but still… And one of the exhibitors not counted by me was Michael’s own Bioplastics magazine.
● Another exhibitor missing from both Michael’s list and mine is IDES, the plastics materials database. Marketing manager Nathan Potter writes: “Just read your article on bioplastics - not sure if you knew, but last November we launched a way in which our Prospector database can be used to search for plastics that are biodegradable, include recycled content, or are derived from renewable resources…. It’s been interesting to see the traffic growth to this particular search, so there is definitely growing interest in these types of materials.”
● After some discussions with the folks at SPE, I took a second look at the agenda for SPE’s ANTEC 2009, to be co-located with NPE2009. I found that I had not searched thoroughly enough the first time. There will be quite a few more presentations on bioplastics than are found under the “Bioplastics” session headings. One paper in a “Flexible Packaging” session, for example, is titled Development of Antimicrobial PLA Nanocomposites with Silver Containing Layered Nanoclays for Packaging and Coating Applications. Who knew?
● SPI’s Midwest regional manager Patti Gillespie has just sent me preliminary descriptions of entrants in the International Plastics Design Competition, which will culminate at NPE2009. The entrants will not be made public until the end of this month, but they include several applications for bioplastics.
At NPE2006, bioplastics was still seen by many as “that newfangled stuff.” The by now well-known photo appearing at the Metabolix, Inc. booth, showing microbes turning sugar into polymer, seemed a far cry from what most of us had in mind when we pictured resin manufacturing. But Metabolix will be back at NPE2009, this time with a real resin plant to talk about. And there will be a goodly number of other exhibitors offering technologies related to bioplastics.
How “hot: is bioplastics? I’m one of those in the industry who groan every time someone repeats the old line from The Graduate (alright, here’s the video clip), but I got a kick out of the headline of a recent major feature on Metabolix in Business Week: “I Have Just One Word for You: BIOPLASTICS.”
Don’t look for Metabolix in the NPE2009 exhibitor list—instead look for Mirel, the family of bioplastics to be offered by Telles, a joint venture of Metabolix and Archer Daniels Midland Co. I asked Telles VP Bob Findlen about their program for NPE2009:
What are the chief benefits that Telles expects from exhibiting at NPE2009?
We are building the industry’s recognition of the Mirel family of bioplastics. There’s a worldwide adaptation happening in the marketplace. Bioplastics are quickly becoming the best value in today’s market to promote sustainability, use alternative non-petroleum feedstocks, address the global warming issue and offer a material that will biodegrade in all environments. By bringing an environmentally responsible bioplastics solution to the market that is truly biodegradable and compostable in both municipal systems and natural environments like home backyard compost systems and marine environments, we can directly address our customers’ demands to reduce their carbon footprint
How has bioplastics progressed since Metabolix exhibited at NPE 2006?
Interest in bioplastics has exploded, even in the relatively short time since 2006. We’ve absolutely seen an increased desire, from brand owners, converters and consumers, to find sustainable alternatives to traditional materials.
Do you plan to introduce any new technology or new products at NPE2009?
Our first commercial facility in Clinton, IA, is scheduled to be up and running in Q2 of 2009, just in time for NPE2009. This show will be one of the first events we’ll be attending while having the initial commercial quantities of Mirel available.
How biodegradable is Mirel? Well, the photo shows a sheet made of the material—before and after!