Thursday, March 4, 2010

UA to use compostable bioplastics

Students were watering and inspecting the cabbage, beet, pepper, tomato, eggplant, chive, lettuce, basil, and cilantro seedlings in the greenhouse at the UA arboretum, when suddenly Kenny, arboretum systems manager and friendly garden collaborator, comes in with a grin across his face "I gotta show you guys something!" Leading us into the office, Kenny explained that he had spent a few hours speaking with a representative from Nviroplast, a company that has spent the past 9 years researching and developing a 100% compostable and biodegradeable alternative to petroleum based plastics.
Nviroplast (n-vi-ro-plazt) adj. 1. A natural, biodegradable, compostable, eco- friendly packaging alternative. link
The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is the first, and only (so far) university in Alabama to take this on, thanks to the folks at Bama Dining. Not only that, but the plan is for the company to soon have headquarters in Alabama! Kenny said they are looking to set up shop in a city with low employment opportunities. Students poked and pulled on the large trash bags, grocery bags, napkins, cups, and plates to test how they bend and break. The material is stronger than plastic, and in 180 days will break down with natural enzymes in the ground or a compost pile, unlike petroleum plastics that are toxic and take years, and years, and years... to decompose. Kenny started a trial run with the products this week, so we will see if the material actually does what they say it will do. Since Bama Dining is already giving their pre-consumed kitchen scraps to the arboretum for composting, these materials will potentially provide inputs for local compost instead of waste products for landfills. only the "waste" products of the corn are used to produce these materials, so no corn is diverted from animal or human feed. It seems like a more efficient use of a material that would be destined for the waste bucket anyway (in the current system of agricultural production). Yet, if it is based on the unsustainable farming of corn in the USA, we should be wary. Regardless, this provides an alternative to petroleum based plastics that does not contribute as much to environmental catastrophe, sounds great! Thank you UA for getting on board with this project.

Austin Creel models the cutting edge, compostable cup with the Alabama letter design on it. Made from corn starch. 100% non-petroleum based.

Students are wondering if this company is planning on making ground cover out of this material to use as an alternative mulch to plasticulture. If this were layed over a vegetable patch, weed suppression would still be effective, and after the season is through, a farmer could work it back into the soil or let it decompose gradually, adding organic matter back into the soil. Another possibility for farming with this material is to make little seed-starting containers that you can directly place in the ground when transplanting without removing the plant from the container - however it would probably take too long for the plastic to decompose this way.

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