“Grower-packers might be concerned about new products because of the perceived added burden of having to carry and manage hundreds of thousands of dollars of pre-printed cartons already in inventory,” he says. “Adding another design adds another complexity for growers. Cost savings must go hand in hand with retaining strength under high humidity conditions, allowing for cooling and heat exchange. But if these conditions could be satisfied, new products would stand a chance.”
Bill Horner, chief executive officer of Clarinda, Iowa-based Naturally Iowa, manufacturers PLA bottles for dairy and is exploring a joint venture with Florida citrus growers to bottle an organic juice. “I can honestly say that petroleum-based and PLA bottles are cost competitive,” he says.
The specific costs depend upon many things, he adds, including the volume produced, but for him it’s a “no-brainer” to produce corn-based rather than oil-based bottles because they are so competitive.
Stanton with NatureWorks says the cost of using PLA is competitive with that of petroleum-based products.
And as the price of oil increases, the gap between that of earth-friendly packaging and petroleum-based plastics will only continue to shrink. Mary Jo Leber, analyst for Tolland, Conn.-based Nerac, Inc., a research and advisory firm says, “The run-up in crude oil prices has narrowed the price differential between petroleum-based plastics and those produced from biodegradable materials. The economic viability of biodegradable plastics made from renewable sources is increasing, as production ramps up and unit costs decrease. Biomass becomes competitive for making chemicals when oil reaches $55 per barrel. By 2010, we could see biomass becoming competitive at $40-45 per barrel for oil.”