Less than a year after its introduction to the marketplace, a recycled PET sheet for signage and food-contact applications also may to help a growing Washington-state firm capitalize on recent regulatory developments in PET packaging.
The Retail Council of Canada's mandate that supermarket clamshell food packaging be made from PET by 2012 is potentially a great development for Arlington, Wash.-based MicroGreen Polymers Inc., said President and CEO Tom Malone.
“Those conversations are early and still in development, but we are ready to support the [Canadian supermarket] supply chain,” Malone said in a June 30 telephone interview.
The company has touted its InCycle-brand sheet's suitability for thermoformed clamshells and other food-grade containers since bringing the technology to market in 2008.
MicroGreen officials also are closely following the unfolding situation in California, where the state Senate on June 2 passed a bill that would ban food vendors from dispensing items in a polystyrene foam food container beginning in 2014.
The bill, which is before the state Assembly for debate, follows in the footsteps of local PS takeout bans enacted by 40 California communities.
Malone said he prefers to see industry innovation rather than legislation driving changes in takeout containers, and that InCycle will gain market share as a result.
“We're very confident in PET being food safe. It's been the most widely used polymer in direct food contact [packaging] for decades; and we can substitute InCycle for [expanded polystyrene] applications, particularly for hot coffee cups or cold beverage cups.
“We expect that we'll be hitting the market with those kinds of products in the next couple of years,” he said.
InCycle relies on MicroGreen's patented Ad-air technology to reduce the amount of plastic required. Ad-air creates bubbles within solid-state plastics to expand the materials and improve their functionality, creating an internal microcellular structure that the company claims is lighter in weight, more insulating, strong and more highly reflective than other materials.
Recently, Image Options — a Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based large-format retail and event installation graphics company that has partnered with MicroGreen since InCycle's commercialization — introduced a new “green” printing method, running InCycle sheets through its EFI Vutek GS3250 LX ultraviolet-curing digital inkjet printer.
InCycle, which can contain up to 50 percent recycled plastic — replaced PVC and EPS sheet in Image Options' lineup, Malone said.
InCycle has been an eco-friendly and economically sustainable alternative for print and signage, especially in point-of-purchase displays, Image Options CEO Tim Bennett said in a July 5 telephone interview.
Unlike some of its “green” competitors, InCycle's attributes of lightness, clean cutting and scoring, and good surface quality with no need for lamination mean that it prints exceptionally well, Bennett said. Plus, it's no small affair that InCycle is attractively priced from the printer's perspective.
“One of the smarter things that [MicroGreen] did was to come out with [InCycle] priced competitively against all these other [so-called green] products, so essentially it becomes cheaper than styrene. Whether we pass that all the way through[ to customers] remains to be seen at this point,” Bennett said.
“One of the things that's happened with a lot of the other materials that came out recently [was that] they came out priced in a premium way. That's backfired to some point,” he said.
InCycle sheet can be found at Costco stores in point-of-purchase signage, and several sheet suppliers have begun distributing the product to printers across the United States.
MicroGreen was founded in 2002. In 2006, it completed a Series A round of funding that netted $2.5 million; and in 2010 the firm completed a Series B funding round, which brought in about $6.9 million. An insider extension of the Series B round in the fourth quarter of 2010 pulled in about $3.8 million.
MicroGreen counts among its financial backers: Houston-based Waste Management Inc. — which diverts PET from its landfills to be recycled into InCycle sheet; Seattle-based WRF Capital; and Northwest Energy Angels, a Seattle-based group of private investors.
With its national distribution network in place, the company expects to raise a round of growth capital later this year, Malone said.
“That [money] will go for sales and marketing, a little bit for [research and development] and then we'll have the ability to commit to large contracts, because we'll have a cash availability for growing other lines and potentially putting some of those lines in place in other locations,” he said.
MicroGreen's 40,000-square-foot plant is producing 250 million square feet of InCycle sheet per year, which potentially is worth about $30 million in sales, Malone said.
The company's second production line in Arlington is a thermoforming line that can support about $20 million in sales annually, with capacity to produce 1 billion 6-ounce cups per year, he said.
MicroGreen initially operated a sourcing and contract manufacturing facility for joint development projects in Green Bay, Wis., with Sierra Coating Technologies LLC. That partnership ended in 2010 when MicroGreen opened its facility in Washington state.
MicroGreen expects full-year 2011 sales to be about $8 million, Malone said. The company employs 31.