Before the pandemic, a renewed consumer focus on climate change, plastic waste, initiatives and organisations participating in developing a circular economy, the European Single Use Plastics directive and other plastics bans created unprecedented global demand for biomaterials like Ingeo™️ from NatureWorks. As Ms. Leah Ford, Global Marketing Communications Manager for NatureWorks explains: “What we’ve seen since early 2020 is the convergence of the environmental concerns around plastics with a heightened need for products that ensure public safety and hygiene. In particular, we’ve seen increased demand for single-use items made from biomaterials that can provide benefits for hygiene and safety as well as sustainability.”
Ms. Leah Ford, Global Marketing Communications Manager, NatureWorks
The pandemic was certainly an extraordinary unplanned global event which has created an enormous amount of uncertainty and rapid change to some of the markets and customers that NatureWorks serves. “For us at NatureWorks, the health and safety of our employees and their families was foremost in our minds. Also, as a part of the critical essential infrastructure, we took seriously our responsibility to deliver our biomaterials on time as promised to the global supply chains that rely on them. To accomplish this goal, we implemented a broad set of policies to protect the health and safety of our employees, while effectively operating our facilities. Our manufacturing plant in Blair, NE experienced no disruptions and even set a new polymer production record in March. Due to the high degree of automation within our facility, we can maintain production levels while practicing effective social distancing,” Ms. Ford explains. At NatureWorks headquarters, applications development lab, and in remote offices, employees are able to work both remotely and continue safe lab operations for research & development.
After securing the safety of its employees and the continuity of manufacturing, NatureWorks turned its focus to how its customers’ needs and the markets were evolving. “We have been in close communication with customers and supply chain partners to understand the shifting landscape of logistics as we all adjust to new ways for doing business,” Ms. Ford continues.
Ingeo™ ️PLA is and will continue to be an important material solution.
Through the end of 2020 and much of 2021, NatureWorks expects its operations to continue under COVID-19 protocols including remote work, masking, and social distancing. However, these won’t impact its ability to manufacture or reducing demand for biomaterials in the market. “In 2021, we also expect to see further innovations using Ingeo™️ in personal protective equipment (PPE) in industries like 3D printing and nonwovens. With the critical shortage of PPE throughout the pandemic, the 3D printing industry and our supply chain demonstrated both speed & flexibility in emergency manufacturing of face shields. In the future, 3D printing will be an essential technology for continued iteration on designs for better performing PPE and other medical devices.
In nonwovens, not only will distributed global capacity for producing the nonwoven fabrics used in masks continue to scale up, but better materials with increased performance will come to market. NatureWorks recently announced a new spunbond nonwoven fabric developed with the Nonwovens Institute that uses Ingeo™️ to create masks that have superior breathability compared to current N95 surgical masks, maintain N95 filtration levels, and are reusable. “We expect this new spunbond technology to become more widespread in 2021 as the demand for masks will not decrease for some time,” according to Ms. Ford.
Ingeo™️ PLA is and will continue to be an important material solution for creating products that offer performance and convenience while also achieving important sustainability goals. “We have seen many new and interesting markets develop in the last few years that are just starting to really grow. Some examples include the compostable coffee capsules (KCups) and tea bags made with Ingeo™️ where having compostable packaging creates the opportunity not only to divert the packaging away from landfill, but the leftover organics (coffee grounds & tea leaves) can also easily be sent to compost where they deliver valuable nutrients to the final compost. Another example is where desktop-style 3D printers can already print with Ingeo™️ because it’s such an easy material to use for printing. Industrial-level users like it for the printability as well as properties like heat resistance and impact strength for industrial parts. In investment casting you again combine that printability with the clean burning characteristics of Ingeo™️ for a new approach to foundry applications. From extrusion coatings to waterborne dispersions, we’ve been working on a slate of safe, new Ingeo™️ biomaterials for coating paper and paperboard that goes into food serviceware and food packaging applications. The result is paper cups and containers that can be manufactured more efficiently, have a smaller carbon footprint, and are also both recyclable and compostable,” Ms. Ford explains.
NatureWorks is set to expand its current manufacturing facility in Blair, NE, U.S.A., which will increase the availability of the full Ingeo™️ (PLA) biomaterials portfolio by 10% The expanded availability will support immediate growth in key markets, and it is only one of many additional capital improvements that NatureWorks is actively working on at its Blair facility. At the same time, NatureWorks is continuing to pursue a future second manufacturing site outside the U.S. to serve its growing international
For the complete Outlook 2021 report, check out the International Plastics News for Asia December issue at this link: http://edms.industrysourcing.com/ezine/20/12/irna.html
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