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Biodegradable bags, utensils take off

Biocorp's bags and utensils are made from renewable materials like cottonseed and cornstarch   

May 19, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 AM EDT

New technology from Biocorp Inc. may make the question "paper or plastic" history. The California-based company has developed disposable bags and cutlery that are entirely biodegradable.

Made from renewable materials, including cottonseed and cornstarch, the products are biodegradable in a normal composting process, yet provide the functional characteristics of conventional plastic.

The products have already received a seal of approval from the American Society for Testing and Materials.

In the past, biodegradable standards have been rather loosely defined, according to Allan Graf, the senior executive vice president of Biocorp. "The earlier generation of products described as biodegradable would often fragment and breakdown into big pieces that would not completely biodegrade," Graf said. "Everyone realized that some standard had to be developed."

Recent ASTM Standards passed in April require that any product claiming to be biodegradable must completely decompose into carbon dioxide or water, the byproducts of decomposition, within a 180-day period. All of Biocorp's products currently meet or surpass these standards.

"Also, the bags are more convenient than paper because they resist better to rain and bad weather, and are transparent, which enables people to see the contents of the bag," says Scheer.

"Typically, these products are designed to collect organic waste," Graf explains. According to Graf, laws in 26 states discourage the sending of yard waste to landfills. Typically, the best alternative is composting. But because removing compost from a plastic bag is costly, the use of plastic bags often destroys the cumulative value of the compost. Although they are more expensive than conventional plastic bags, reSourceBags offer a logical means of eliminating the traditional plastic bag because they biodegrade in sync with yard waste.

Since U.S. operations began in 1996, reSourceBags are taking off. You may have already come across them in the aisles of WalMart or other regional chains. The biodegradable bags have been utilized for a year at Merck & Co., which has instituted a "zero waste" policy at the company's cafeteria. Merck uses Biocorp's trash bags to collect food waste. Instead of dumping at the local landfills, Merck recycles all kitchen wastes and bags through local hog farmers.

"We feel the Biocorp reSourceBag is a very cost-effective disposal method from an environmental standpoint, said Larry Pollak, the Merck employee who started the program. "Recycling of food wastes helps Merck to go beyond its state-mandated goal. It has also helped reduce tipping fees at local landfills."

In addition, the bags have also been in use in two Columbus, Ohio-area municipalities, Upper Arlington and Grove City, where they are being used in yard waste clean up efforts.

Graf anticipates a large market for the biodegradable bags in the U.S. as "People are realizing the problems of chemical fertilizers and switching over to compost."

Accompanying the bag line are reSourceWare(tm) knives, forks and spoons. These utensils are being piloted at 15 restaurants and refreshment stands at the Brookfield Zoo, near Chicago.

"The zoo's food-service department supports the zoo's mission, which includes conserving our natural resources," said Martin Dubina, vice president of business services. "The zoo's restaurants are among a few in the industry that have made significant changes in their daily operations to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Brookfield Zoo is one of the first major venues to test this product. If successful, we have the potential to motivate and educate more than 2 million people every year about the importance of making informed decisions that can benefit the environment." The zoo will recycle reSourceWare in its state-of-the-art composting facility, which opened in 1997. The composted will be used as a natural fertilizer on the zoo's 216 landscaped acres.

The waste problem created by disposable plastics is coming to the nation's attention. According to Biocorp, nearly 113 billion disposable cups, 39 billion disposable eating utensils and 29 billion disposable plates are used in the United States every year, and half these items are made of plastic. With less landfill space than the United States, European nations have been a large market for biodegradable materials. In April 1997, for the first time ever in the fast food industry, McDonald's introduced the biodegradable cutlery in its German, Swedish and Austrian restaurants.

But the U.S. market is growing. According to Graf, a lot of colleges in the U.S. are starting to make their own compost, such as Oberlin College near Cleveland, where reSourceWare is becoming an important part of the process.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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American Society of Testing and Materials
Remarkable Material
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