Stillwater, Minn. — Danny Mishek didn't get into bioplastics on purpose. He heard that plant-based resins were hard to process, and he wondered if his company could solve some of the problems.
It started eight years ago, when Mishek was president of the Society of Plastics Engineers' upper Midwest section.
"At that time, there were all these conversations about these new biomaterials, plant-based materials. And everyone was talking about how bad they were. They're too brittle; they had no heat deflection. They sucked."
That intrigued Mishek, so he bought a 50-pound bag of polylactic acid resin.
"I sampled it in some of our molds, and we experimented with it. And yeah, there were some flaws with it. But in the back of my mind, I knew we could design around some of the flaws of the material," Mishek said.
The effort was successful, and now bioplastics are a growth driver at Vista Technologies LLC, a Stillwater-based custom injection molder.
The company has two proprietary lines of products made from plant-based plastics: caterware and horticultural products. VistaTek, as the company is known, now has a unit called SelfEco that designs and manufactures plant-based plastics products.
VistaTek's first bioplastic product was a flower pot. The company quickly earned a reputation as a pioneer in bioplastic injection molding.
"PLA was mostly used in film and thermoformed products. I had suppliers of biomaterials calling me, asking questions about the parameters for injection molding their materials," Mishek said. "So I thought this is going to be special because nobody else is really doing it.