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Q&A with NatureWorks CEO Marc Verbruggen

Q&A with NatureWorks CEO Marc Verbruggen, NatureWorks, Asia packaging, USA, bioplastics
Marc Verbruggen, CEO of NatureWorks LLC – the US company known for its Ingeo brand of biopolymers, sits down with and discuss the sustainability of PLA (polylactide polymer) and how demand can be generated in Asia.

Qns: Is there such a thing as ‘ONE sustainable packaging solution’?
Ans: I wish there was a formula that would allow you to input some numbers, and from there you can find out how sustainable your product is.

If you look at value creation of a product like PLA, there is clearly value from a global warming, C02 reduction perspective in using renewable feedstock. There is so much data available to prove that. PLA will give you lower carbon footprint, lower energy use, because you’re using renewable feedstocks – that is clearly a positive aspect.

Another aspect of sustainability relates to the safety and health of plastics. For example, PLA does not contain any bisphenol A (BPA), formalydhyde, etc. With PLA, there are no concerns about toxicity.

Qns: How do you handle the issue of PLA waste management?
Ans: With end-of-life, it also depends on the situation. NatureWorks has become clear in its message in that just composting a plastic often makes little sense. Recycling plastics is actually better from a sustainability point of view. So why is composting still important? It’s not so much because of the composting of plastics, but the composting of organic waste.

Organic waste by itself is an issue if you put it in landfill or incineration. Our theory of composting is : you should always try to recycle. However if you have an organic waste problem -  meaning you need to put your organic waste in landfill where it does terrible damage, or you have to incinerate it, where there would be very little efficiency - getting organic waste to a composter is very valuable. And the best way to do that is to use compostable plastics because then you don’t have to sort, and then you can just put the whole combination of food waste/organic waste in the plastics, and bring that to a composter. That’s the most efficient way, to use compostable plastics to transport the organic waste that is to be composted.

Qns: What about in Asia, where there are no industrial composting facilities?
Ans: You have to look at your regional situation.

You can put PLA in landfill without worrying that it’ll have additional harmful effects; it’ll just be like other plastics. PLA can also be incinerated. PVC in an incinerator might not be a good idea, but you can incinerate PLA with no problems.

You can use traditional end-of-life options for plastics with PLA; there is no problem with that. But is that the best solution? We don’t think so. You can recycle PLA like any other plastic. Does it work everywhere? Probably not. But chemical recycle could work well for plastic bottles, or  RPLA pellets.

Qns: How do you stimulate the growth in demand for PLA in Asia?
Ans: Consumer awareness. How do you get to the point when a Thai consumer in a supermarket recognizes and appreciates the fact that you have green packaging available for him?

I think the safety aspect benefit of PLA is going to have an impact before the environmental sustainability aspect because most people are much more concerned about safety and health than they are about carbon footprint, because that doesn’t touch you on a personal level, or touches you less on a personal level while health and safety does.

And everyone will have to play a role in generating consumer awareness – media, industry, NGOs, governments.


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