Cutting down on cutlery

Biobased, biodegradable disposable plastic cutlery has taken a step forward with an award from the US Defense Supply Center to Metabolix, Inc to prototype moulding of polyhydroxyalkanoate plastics products.

The reality of biobased, biodegradable disposable plastic cutlery has taken a major step forward with an award from the Defense Supply Center section of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to Metabolix, Inc. to prototype moulding of PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) plastics products.

As part of a commitment in the US to move away from traditional petrochemical plastics for disposable items, the project will help bring cutlery and other biodegradable disposable moulded products through the demonstration stage into commercial production. Metabolix will work with Innovative Mold Solutions, Inc, of Leominster, MA to optimise mould design and conduct the moulding trials.

Switching to renewable PHAs will reduce the detrimental impact of persistent plastics on the environment. The US government currently procures more than half a billion single-use cutlery items each year. Other candidates for conversion to renewable, PHA materials include disposable items such as paper cups and plates.

‘This project is another important milestone in Metabolix’s commercialisation of PHAs,’ said Dr. Robert Whitehouse, the company’s director of applications development. ‘Single-use items are a large opportunity for PHA plastics. Metabolix will use this program to prototype the manufacture of these items, show their cost-effectiveness, and demonstrate on commercial-scale equipment fast cycle times for the injection moulding of PHAs.’

Upon the successful completion of the project, Metabolix will work with Signature Works of Hazelhurst, MS (a Division of LC Industries of Durham, NC) to run trials for full-scale manufacturing.

Metabolix’s PHAs are a broad and versatile family of plastics ranging in properties from rigid to highly elastic, making them suitable for film, fibre, adhesives, coatings, and moulded goods. Although PHAs are stable to hot liquids such as coffee or tea, they will biodegrade in fresh and marine water, soil and composting environments, and even under anaerobic conditions once their use is over, making them ideal candidates for this application.