Leslie Harty, president of Maverick Enterprises, in Monroe, N.C., said she has been pushing for better biodegradable plastic products for 15 years, starting at a time when the idea was new to practically everyone.
"I had to educate myself of the types of biodegradable plastics and learn the truths about them," said Harty, who earned a bachelor's degree from Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) and then attended a graduate school program in East Asian studies at Florida State University.
Harty started Maverick Enterprises, a plastics consulting business focused on packaging and developing green products, in 1993.
A big breakthrough happened about 10 years ago, when Harty said she was involved with the development of the first biodegradable coffee bag pouch. Her business and client, Larry's Beans of Raleigh, were recognized in 2008 with a commendation by Sustainable North Carolina for integrating social responsibility and environmental stewardship with business strategies.
The achievement also was featured by an industry digest and led to some speaking engagements in 2009 and 2010.
Harty said her latest challenge is working on a coffee pod that is landfill biodegradable. She said she has an idea for one that will have three major parts made with an additive that will meet the ASTM 5511 testing standard that determines the rate and degree of biodegradability in a high-solids anaerobic digester for municipal waste.
"The additive I use is landfill biodegradable and also creates biogas, which, when captured, is the cheapest form of renewable energy on the market today," Harty said, adding that she is coordinating with three companies on the parts. In addition, she has spent about five years tweaking her coffee bag.
"I am also improving my coffee bag with the first ever biodegradable PET film," Harty said. "I have been working with PET extruders to develop such a film."
Her recommendations to anyone getting into the industry are to learn about resins and biodegradable films and to consider this segment of the market. Harty said one of the interesting emerging technologies relates to new additives that enable plastics to be landfill biodegradable as well as compostable.
If the movie "The Graduate" were remade today, Harty said Dustin Hoffman's character would get two words of advice: biodegradable plastics.