This post first appeared on Earth911.com on July 10, 2013.
Already topping lists of the nation’s most sustainable companies, Tom’s of Maine is looking to reduce end-of-life waste from its products even more by experimenting with biodegradable packaging made from potato starch.
Through a partnership with the University of Maine Orono and the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine, the natural personal care brand is studying the viability of recapturing local agricultural waste and using it to form polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic resin.
“[The idea] comes from, no pun intended, where our roots are in Maine,” said Pam Scheeler, claims manager for Tom’s of Maine, who specializes in biochemistry. “There’s a lot of potato crop … and a lot of waste from potato production.”
The PLA will rely on non-GMO potatoes that are below food-grade, meaning they would ordinarily be tossed in the garbage after harvest, according to the company.
Since potatoes are the largest commodity in Maine’s $1.2 billion annual agriculture industry, choosing potato starch as a feedstock just made sense, Scheeler explained. But university researchers said the same method could be used to recapture a wide range of waste products.
“It’s based on sugar, so you could use a lot of other materials,” Scheeler told Earth911. “It’s a technology that could really be tailored to the waste stream that an area has an issue with.”
Other potential PLA feedstocks include wood, waste paper products, sugar, corn, grasses and grains, Scheeler said.
Tom’s of Maine pinpointed its mouthwash bottles and deodorant canisters as good candidates for the use of potato-based PLA initially, as reported in its first-ever Goodness Report, which details health, sustainability and human welfare initiatives at the company.
Another company that recently recognized the versatility of potato starch is champagne maker Veuve Cliquot, whose new grab-and-carry packaging is also isothermal, keeping the champagne cool for up to two hours without refrigeration.