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Significant Years for Ingeo™ Natural Plastics Bottles Made From Plants, Not Oil

From early 2007 through 2008, NatureWorks LLC, maker of Ingeo™ natural plastic resin, and the packaging and recycling industry made significant strides toward the adoption of bottles made from renewable resources rather than imported oil.

“In late 2006, NatureWorks pledged to responsibly and transparently introduce Ingeo™ natural plastic water, dairy, juice, and other bottles into the market,” said Marc Verbruggen, NatureWorks president and CEO. “Our twin goals were to work with brand owners on carefully phased bottle introductions and on a parallel track to develop a deeper environmental and technical understanding of end-of-life scenarios for bottles made from renewable resources rather than oil. Both of these efforts saw significant advances throughout 2007 and 2008.”

Key milestones during this 24-month period included a grant from the state of California for a bioresin recycling pilot project, the first national rollout of water bottles made from NatureWorks’ Ingeo™ natural plastic, and a lifecycle analysis that determined the unequivocal environmental and performance benefits that will result when recycling NatureWorks’ Ingeo™-based bottles back into bottles.

Bottle introductions

In 2008, following a two-million bottle, five-month long pilot project, Primo Water Corporation of Winston Salem, North Carolina,, introduced its new line of bottled water in Ingeo™ single-serve bottles. Primo Water is the first product bottled with renewable plastic to be sold nationally. In August 2008, Primo was instrumental in forming the Bioplastics Recycling Consortium, an organization pledged to develop a recovery system and end markets for post-consumer bioplastic materials.

Earlier in 2008, Good Water,, completed a successful pilot study of collecting and recycling Ingeo™-based bottles and introduced its new bottled water line. Located in New Zealand, Good Water contributed to the establishment of Greenplastics Inc.,, a stewardship organization dedicated to developing, promoting, and securing options for post-consumer uses of bioresins.

“The Primo and Good Water examples illustrate how NatureWorks is working responsibly to introduce bottles made from Ingeo™,” Verbruggen said. “NatureWorks looks for brand owners that share its commitment to decrease dependence on non-renewable resources, lower the environmental impact of packaging, work transparently with stakeholders, and plan for end-of-life recovery and reuse.”

In April 2008, following several months of extensive tests, the Italian firm Fonti di Vinadio began bottling Sant’Anna,, mineral water in Ingeo™ bioplastic packaging. In Italy, Sant’Anna is available at the majority of Ipercoop stores. With the assistance of qualified partners, the company continues to collect data on the new bottle’s market impact and consumer acceptance.

Recovery and reuse

During the past two years, market and lifecycle analyses demonstrated that recovery and reuse of Ingeo bottles would be not only doable, once sufficient numbers of bottles enter the waste stream, but also would be better overall for the environment than petroleum-based bottles.

In 2007, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research,, Heidelberg, Germany, completed a lifecycle assessment of various formulations of Ingeo™ bioresin bottles and bottles made from PET. This first-of-its-kind analysis found that the recycling of post-consumer Ingeo™ bioresin back into new water bottles will offer environmental, energy, and package performance advantages compared to recycling PET back into bottles.

The study also found that the optimum method of making new Ingeo bottles from recycled material was a process called hydrolysis — a chemical reaction that breaks down the post-consumer bioresin into lactic acid, which can then be reformulated back into virgin Ingeo™ resin. This fundamentally means that Ingeo™ can achieve cradle-to-cradle reuse, with cradle-to-cradle’s consequent energy, environmental, and performance advantages.

Subsequently, NatureWorks scientists performed hydrolysis tests on Naturally Iowa Milk Ingeo™ bottles. The scientists found that impurities such as caps and label material can be filtered down to levels that allow recycling back to bottle-grade resin. NatureWorks is now preparing a large-scale hydrolysis pilot project involving post-consumer material in bottle-to-bottle recycling.

Sorting Ingeo™ from PET water bottles

In June 2008, the WRAP environmental organization,, published a report titled, Domestic Mixed Plastics Packaging Waste Options. In the report WRAP concluded that, “NIR (near-infrared) sorting systems can effectively remove PLA bioplastic and carton board from a mixed packaging stream.” A NatureWorks survey of automated sorting equipment performance with its Ingeo polylactide came to similar conclusions. The assurance of effective mechanical sorting is important to the recycling industry, which must provide pure streams of material to its customers.

NatureWorks LLC is a stakeholder in a Future 500,, pilot project to evaluate mechanical processing in the separation of bioresin and other plastics from both PET and high density polyethylene (HDPE). The pilot study is being funded in part by the California Department of Conservation, which in November awarded $1,047,000 toward the 18-month project. Businesses are contributing an additional $800,000 USD.

This project will compare the effectiveness of automated sorting technologies with the goal of showing where and how bioresin can most efficiently and economically be sorted prior to being reformulated and reused. The findings of the project may eventually serve to create a foundational model for commercial separation and reuse of bioresin.

“We believe that 2007 and 2008 were years studded with important milestones in the development of a market for bioresin bottles,” Verbruggen said. “As the number of bottles increases, suppliers, brand owners, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the recycling industry must continue to work both transparently and with clear plans for post-consumer recycling and reuse of bottles made from plants.”

A timeline of bottle-related milestones, a report on effective mechanical sorting technologies, and the lifecycle analysis by Energy and Environmental Research can all be downloaded from the News and Events page of the company’s website, NatureWorks also publishes a newsletter covering developments of Ingeo™ bioresin and relevant industry developments — see the News and Events page.