A four-year development partnership between nutraceuticals producer Gaia Herbs Inc. of Brevard, N.C., and Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., has resulted in a new bioresin composite bottle for global packaging markets.
EarthBottles are injection blow molded of polylactic acid reinforced with natural fibers such as kenaf, flax and cotton, and are the brainchild of Clemson University researchers Danny Roberts and David Gangemi. Their joint venture with Gaia called Earth Renewable Technologies LLC will develop recyclable, biodegradable, petroleum-free materials for automotive parts, agricultural and industrial fabrics and biomedical parts, among other applications. Earth Renewable has its headquarters in Brevard and research division in Clemson.
Roberts said he conceived the idea for a fiber-reinforced PLA bottle several years ago while working on corn-based alternatives to petroleum-based plastics for automotive applications.
``We already had a partnership with Gaia, testing metals for them and so forth,'' he said in an Oct. 31 telephone interview. ``What they needed was an organic bottle for an organic product.''
Earth Renewable General Manager Greg Cumberford said the performance of the Clemson prototypes convinced Gaia to underwrite the research and commercialize the product. The effort has cost about $1 million, said Cumberford, who is an executive vice president at Gaia.
``Our initial collaboration yielded the possibility that pure PLA held some promise as a base resin for which we could improve certain key performance parameters (e.g., thermal stability, moisture barrier, oxygen barrier) that are important for dietary supplement storage,'' Cumberford said in an Oct. 27 e-mail.
EarthBottles are compliant with ASTM D6400 guidelines for compostable plastics, Roberts said, and will biodegrade within eight weeks in landfills.
``The concept of the EarthBottle is similar to that of the tissue scaffold used in biomedical engineering and regenerative medicine,'' Gangemi said in a news release. Both products use organic substances to create a biodegradagle ``container'' that has the physical, chemical and antimicrobial properties needed for a specific use, he said.
``The EarthBottle protects contents from spoilage and the scaffold provides an environment to encourage cells and tissue to regenerate,'' Gangemi said.
Gaia launched its ChiaFresh line of antioxidant chia-fiber products in EarthBottles at Natural Products Expo East, held Oct. 15-18 in Boston. EarthBottles patents are pending in the U.S. and in the European Union, China and Brazil. Clemson will hold any patents that are granted.
According to Gaia, the bottles will save it about $400,000 yearly in shipping costs. EarthBottles weigh about 20 grams each, compared with 115 grams about 4 ounces each for the glass bottles Gaia had used for packaging. Gaia ships more than 1.5 million bottles annually.
St. Louis-based Alpha Packaging Co. produced the initial batch of EarthBottles for Gaia. Alpha executives did not return phone calls seeking comment. Roberts said Calumet City, Ill.-based compounder Plastics Color Corp. produced the necessary PLA composite at its Asheboro, N.C., plant. Plastics Color officials also did not return calls.
Roberts and Cumberford said Earth Renewable is negotiating with a compounder to take over all marketing of EarthBottles.
``We have not signed any sort of exclusivity agreement with the compounder or other converters at this time,'' Roberts said.
Possible candidates for large-scale manufacturing include Atlanta-based Consolidated Container Co. LLC, Paradigm Packaging Inc. of Carlstadt, N.J., and Chesterfield, Mo.-based Silgan Plastics Corp., he said.
Cumberford said more than 150 U.S. companies in the dietary supplements, household cleaning products, body-care and cosmetics and food and beverage markets have expressed interest in adopting EarthBottles.