August 23, 2006 11:40 AM PDT

Here comes the biodegradable fork

Some people want to take fossil fuel out of cars. Frederic Scheer is taking it out of picnicware.

Scheer, CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cereplast, says his company has come up with a way to produce things like forks, knives, cups, food packages and other items out of plastic derived from cornstarch, rather than from petroleum-based compounds.

Because Cereplast's plastic is composed of organic material, the items made from it will dissolve in a compost pile in 180 days or less, Scheer said. In a landfill, a plate made from Cereplast's material might take two or three years to decompose.

"But compare that to regular plastic, which can take 100 years or more," he said. "Our resin is primarily designed for products to be composted. It will go back to water, CO2 and biomass (often) in less than 60 days."

Just as important, the stuff may be cheaper, thanks to improved technology and rising gas prices. A pound of Cereplast's resin sells for around 58 to 60 cents. A pound of petroleum-based polystyrene, meanwhile, sells for around 60 cents.

"We believe we are the same price or lower," he said. "In the past, one of the problems was everybody wants to be green, but nobody could afford it."

Industrial customers, he added, are responding to the company's pitch. Solo, the disposable-cup giant, will later this year start to offer a paper cup that's coated with Cereplast's materials rather than the petroleum-based plastic film typically used on these cups.

Cereplast is also contemplating discussions with large chemical companies about licensing. (The company also produces its own line of Nat-ur utensils.)

Earth-friendly plastic

Entrepreneurs and activists have touted green technology for years, and its appeal among consumers and industrial buyers is growing. Part of the revival of clean technology comes from concerns about the environment, but a significant driver, according to Scheer and others, lies in how the economics have improved. Products made from things other than fossil fuels are losing their price premium. Additionally, they can help consumers avoid clean-up costs or health risks.

Green at the Olympics
For the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Cereplast won a contract to supply the organizers with utensils made from biodegradable starch. At the time, a box of 1,000 utensils from the company cost about $60, he said. Now the same box of utensils would cost around $10. In October, he'll visit Beijing to make a pitch to the organizers of the 2008 games.

Like many other modern green companies, Cereplast doesn't list the overthrow of the petroleum universe as one of its objectives. Instead, it just wants to nibble off some of the edges. Chemical companies sell around 115 billion pounds of plastic resin a year in the U.S. alone.

By the end of the year, Cereplast will be capable of producing 40 million pounds of resin, and it should grow to a 300 million-pound capacity by 2008. In five or six years, Scheer said, he wants the company to produce a billion pounds a year. Even then, though, Cereplast would remain a small provider of resin overall.

The company's resins can be used in the same injection-molding and other processes currently employed by manufacturers, he said. It takes around 15 to 20 percent longer to produce something with Cereplast's resins than with conventional resins. That adds costs, but the Cereplast resins don't have to be heated to the same extreme temperatures, which cuts down on fuel costs. With fuel prices rising, the cost difference for manufacturers becomes negligible. Although some experts believe that oil prices will be lower in the near future, the long-term forecast is for oil prices to climb.

Cereplast makes 12 different types of resins, and how they get used depends on the end product. A plastic bottle, which is created on different machinery, requires a different type of resin than does a straw.

But what about the carbon dioxide that gets released when Cereplast's plastic forks decompose? Doesn't that contribute to global warming?

"The C02 is insignificant--less than 1 percent in weight--and does nourish the biomass to make the soil amendment called compost," Scheer said.

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13 comments

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Im In
I might even pay 3 cents for the fork instead of 2. Inflation will get you somewhere, why not in the fork?
Posted by Im-Not-TED (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hi Dear all:

Our factory is producing biodegradable cutlery. Factory has HACCP, our products have many certificates. USA, UK , Canada and Australia are our main markets. If U are interested in, please feel free to contact me .

Made from PSM or PLA, 100% biodegradable and compostable, heat resistance.

We will supply OEM service, namely custom-made products are welcomed!

We also make PSM disposable cutlery/dinnerware/tableware/utensils/products: Fork, spoon, knife.

Sugarcane utensils: Clamshell, food tray, round plate, elliptical plate, bowl and so on.

Regards

Maggie Chen
maggie@bio-sy.com
T: 86 512 6863 8462
F: 86 512 6863 9937
Posted by maggiesuyuan (3 comments )
Link Flag
A fork that eats itself
Ingenious.
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Panasonic
This is something that is already being done by Panasonic in Japan. They have a future technologies center in Tokyo which highlights plastics made from corn starch.
Posted by indusani (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can I keep it for a few years? Is it safe?
Does it desolve after about a few months in my cupboard and will this make people want to just throw it on the ground becaiuse it's biodegradable? Would an animal be more inclined to eat it before it's fully decomposed? In this chemical slushy state how safe is it in the decomposition process if somone forgets it outside for instance.
With a plastic cup it would just sit there but with this it turns into slush.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is not new...
I have been using bio degrable cornstarch forks and spoons for
about three years. Is this a paid ad for this late to the market
company?
Posted by Paul Grantham (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is not new
Where can I buy them? They are not in MY stores.
Posted by willdryden (271 comments )
Link Flag
Where can I buy them? They are not in MY stores.

try going to: http://www.nat-ur.com/index.html
Posted by e.lists (1 comment )
Link Flag
News to me
..so it is a news item. If you are concerned enough to buy these in the past one would think that getting the word out is a good thing and not worry about whether or not it is an ad.
Posted by joeinflorida (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is great
i think that cost and demand are the biggest factors in increasing
the use of green and organic products and produce! I think we
are certainly making some significant progress here ... keep
spreading the word!
Posted by rmanachi (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hi,

Please contact me : maggie@bio-sy.com if you are interested. Our factory produces bio-degradable cutlery: PSM and PLA cutlery.
Posted by maggiesuyuan (3 comments )
Link Flag
Good idea--but...?
Doesn't a lot of gasoline need to be used to power the tractors that harvest the corn that is grown to produce the corn-based biodegradable fork? So if everyone switches to using these, wouldn't the environmental damage just be shifted elsewhere?
Posted by ShmorgelBorgel-214837083684521 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hi Dear all:

Our factory is producing biodegradable cutlery. Factory has HACCP, our products have many certificates. USA, UK , Canada and Australia are our main markets. If U are interested in, please feel free to contact me .

Made from PSM or PLA, 100% biodegradable and compostable, heat resistance.

We will supply OEM service, namely custom-made products are welcomed!

We also make PSM disposable cutlery/dinnerware/tableware/utensils/products: Fork, spoon, knife.

Sugarcane utensils: Clamshell, food tray, round plate, elliptical plate, bowl and so on.

Regards

Maggie Chen
maggie@bio-sy.com
T: 86 512 6863 8462
F: 86 512 6863 9937
Posted by maggiesuyuan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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