Another innovation in earth-friendly grower packaging is a corn-based resin called polyactic acid, also known as PLA. Dextrose, the base feedstock, is used in a fermentation process in which sugar is converted to lactic acid. The lactic acid is then used to create a polymer, which is later converted to a variety of packaging and fiber applications. PLA packaging already is used by several growers and retailers, including Wal-Mart, which uses it to package cut fruit, herbs, strawberries, and brussel sprouts, according to Wal-Mart’s sustainability fact sheet on its Web site.
Another PLA application has been recognized in the Florida citrus juice sector. Winter Haven-based Blue Lake Citrus Products LLC, which markets the Noble Juice brand, has been using PLA for its bottling needs for about a year. The company says it was a challenge at first to reach consumers, but more recently it has gotten a positive response from retailers.
“Consumers can readily identify with our efforts to preserve the earth by using vegetable-based rather than petroleum-based products,” says Allison Stone, marketing manager. She adds that the high price of fossil fuels makes vegetable-based alternatives such as PLA increasingly more viable when it comes to managing the cost of bottling its Florida-grown orange, grapefruit, and tangerine juice.
A new line of natural plastics under the Mirel brand is another alternative that may become of increasing interest to growers. It is now being produced in a pilot facility by Lowell, Mass.-based Telles, a joint venture formed in 2006 between Metabolix Inc., Cambridge, Mass., and Archer Daniels Midland, Decatur, Ill. While the packaging currently is made by the microbial fermentation of corn sugar, sugars derived from other products, such as cane sugar, palm oil or coconut oil, may also be used, says Brian Igoe, vice president and chief brand officer.
“Our Clinton, Iowa-based plant is expected to be coming on line in late 2008. When up to capacity, we will be producing 110 millions pounds of Mirel annually and will be able to expand threefold. We are building with the idea of expansion because the response has been tremendous,” Igoe says.
He adds that future applications will include netting, films for agricultural mulch, and packaging.