|To: richardred who wrote (44)||10/21/2007 5:08:49 PM|
|Plant-Based Plastics Carve Market Niche|
Sunday October 21, 1:50 pm ET
By Mark Jewell, AP Business Writer
Manufacturers of Emerging Plant-Based Plastics Hope to Carve Larger Market Niche
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Target offers shoppers an unusual message about its gift cards at some stores, advising that they are biodegradable. "Just make sure you spend them first," the displays conclude.
This isn't just a marketing gimmick. Plastics made from corn and other plants are carving a tiny niche from the market for conventional petroleum-based plastics and being touted as green alternatives for everything from bulk food containers to lipstick tubes and clothing fiber -- as well as gift cards.
So-called "bioplastics" offer the world a way to wean itself off oil, and most biodegrade to varying degrees. But their makers' green argument is complex, and environmentalists are cautious in their support.
Manufacturing bioplastics produces carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. The materials are made from crops -- corn, switchgrass, sugar cane, even sweet potatoes -- that require land and water to grow. Some sound alarms because genetically modified organisms are used to spur the fermentation that creates them. And recycling them presents still other pitfalls.
They also can cost three times more than conventional plastics, which gives businesses pause about adopting them. Until bioplastics expand beyond their current tiny fraction of the overall plastics market, the road to popularity is expected to be rough.
"It's almost a chicken-and-egg scenario," said David Cornell of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. "It might someday reach that critical mass, but it has to happen very quickly, because in the meantime it can be a nuisance for us."
Bioplastics' main benefit would be to reduce from 10 percent the share of U.S. petroleum consumption that goes into plastic. The types that are biodegradable also could help compensate for the country's slow progress in recycling -- only about 6 percent of plastic made in the U.S. was recycled in 2005, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bioplastics also lack toxins like polyvinyl chloride that have raised health concerns and led California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month to sign legislation banning chemicals called phthalates from toys and baby products.
"This is a promising new technology that faces some challenges," said Mike Schade of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, a Falls Church, Va.-based nonprofit. "But we don't view them as insurmountable, if the industry is willing to face them head-on."
The market's newest entrant is Mirel, from Cambridge-based Metabolix Inc. It more easily biodegrades than rival materials and, unlike others, can break down in a backyard compost bin. Its first consumer application came in July when Target Corp. began using it in gift cards at 129 stores. Metabolix is talking with potential clients about dozens more applications for Mirel, from razor blade handles to a coating for disposable coffee cups.
Agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland Co. provides corn feedstock for making Mirel, which requires genetically engineered bacteria to aid in fermentation.
The most widely used bioplastic, NatureWorks -- a product of a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. -- also is corn-based and biodegradable. It is made without genetically modified bacteria. Some of the corn that goes into it is modified, raising environmental concerns on the sourcing end, but the company notes that protein from the corn is destroyed in processing. NatureWorks already is used in dozens of products, including water bottles -- an application unsuited to Mirel, which isn't transparent.
Other bioplastics that biodegrade to some degree include Ecoflex, from German chemical company BASF AG; Mater-Bi, from Italy's Novamont SPA; and Cereplast, from a Hawthorne, Calif.-based company by the same name. And two major conventional plastics makers -- DuPont Co. and Brazilian chemical company Braskem SA -- make recyclable bioplastic that isn't biodegradable, the first from corn and the second from sugar cane.
No figures are available on overall bioplastics production, but bioplastics makers acknowledge the products occupy a tiny niche in the global plastics market, which totals $250 billion and produces 360 billion pounds a year. By comparison, the 300 million pound capacity of NatureWorks' Nebraska production plant is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the market total.
For most biodegradable bioplastics, including NatureWorks, an industrial compost plant is recommended -- facilities that are few and far between. The products are stable in places where microbes and moisture are minimal, as on a kitchen shelf. Metabolix says Mirel will decompose in a backyard compost within two months and about twice as slowly in soil, rivers, lakes or the ocean. But very few Americans compost, and most who do try not to include even paper products, let alone unfamiliar bioplastics.
"There's a lot more to it than saying it's scientifically and technologically possible to compost these materials," said Betty McLaughlin of the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit encouraging greater materials recovery and recycling.
And, just as different types of petroleum-base plastic can't be mixed in recycling, bioplastics should not be mixed with any conventional plastic because even tiny quantities can irreparably contaminate some melted petroleum-based plastics that have higher melting points, Cornell said.
"The sustainability concept is taking hold broadly, including in the corporate sector," said McLaughlin. "But these materials face a long road gaining acceptance."
A major bump on that road will be their cost. But, in another chicken-and-egg paradox, growing the market for bioplastics is key to bringing down their price, industry leaders said. NatureWorks says its production costs are just 10 percent to 20 percent above those of conventional plastics. Companies buying Mirel pay about $2.50 a pound, compared with 70 cents to 90 cents for petroleum-based resin, although the price difference is expected to shrink as quantities grow and oil prices rise.
Tamara Nameroff, acting director of the American Chemical Society's Green Chemistry Institute, said being as good as the product it replaces is not good enough for any green product, "even if you've proved you can make it environmentally friendly."
"You have to show a cost advantage to what it's replacing," she said. "The idea that people just want to purchase environmentally friendly products has been demonstrated in some markets, but not universally."
Though most consumers lack the patience to sort out all the arguments, environmental friendliness can sell. Ralph DiMatteo, 48, of Painesville Township, Ohio, said after learning Sam's Club gift cards are made of NatureWorks plastic that he would buy them as holiday gifts.
"I don't spend a lot of time researching these kinds of things, but if something is presented to me properly to show how my effort can make a difference for the environment, I'm willing to pay a couple extra cents," DiMatteo said.
For now, Metabolix is banking on that kind of attitude, said co-founder and chief scientific officer Oliver Peoples.
"We believe that there is a segment of the population that is willing to pay to basically feel better about using plastics," Peoples said. "And if a company decided it wanted to go in that direction of charging $2.03 for a cup of coffee rather than $2, our view is that we're adding something to their brand."
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|From: Sam Citron||12/7/2007 10:48:55 AM|
|No Plastic Bags Please, We're British Gets Brown to Mull Ban|
By Alex Morales
Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The sight of a Hawaiian beach covered in trash and seabirds choking on plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean turned Briton Rebecca Hosking into an environmental activist in her own backyard.
Hosking, a documentary maker for the British Broadcasting Corp., showed footage of the damage to retailers in the village of Modbury, southwestern England. That prompted all 43 shops in town to stop giving away plastic bags in May and triggered a campaign that's putting pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to roll out restrictions nationwide.
Animals ``through millions of years of evolution have learned that anything colorful on the ocean surface is a food source,'' Hosking says. ``Plastic bags are problematic because they mimic jellyfish.''
Britons use 13 billion carrier bags a year, each of which takes 400 years to break down, according to London Councils, which represents the capital's 33 local governments. Ireland in 2002 imposed a tax on plastic bags -- now 22 euro cents (32 U.S. cents) a bag -- that has cut use by 90 percent, the country's Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government says.
Hosking's campaign is a ``great example of grassroots action leading the debate,'' says Mike Webster, a consultant at Waste Watch, a London-based group that promotes recycling. ``What's encouraging is that it's spreading and politicians are sitting up and taking notice and being braver as a result.''
More than 70 U.K. towns and villages plan to adopt voluntary plastic bag bans, encouraging shoppers to shift to reusable carriers or cornstarch bags, according to the Marine Conservation Society, which campaigns to clean up U.K. beaches. As small retailers join with city governments to cut plastic bag use, Brown last month said he would push for a nationwide phase- out.
``All over the country campaigns have been formed to get rid of disposable plastic bags -- one of the most visible symbols of environmental waste,'' Brown said in a Nov. 19 speech in London. ``I am convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether.''
Brown said he wants the U.K.'s largest supermarket chains, including Tesco Plc, J Sainsbury Plc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s Asda unit, to expand their pledge to reduce their use of plastic bags by 25 percent by 2008. While supermarkets promote recycling, only one in 200 plastic bags is recycled, the government says.
On Nov. 13, London's 33 local councils voted to demand that Parliament restrict the use of plastic bags in the capital. Proposed legislation would bar retailers from giving away bags for free. The law wouldn't take effect before 2009.
``This is not pie in the sky,'' says Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils. ``It's readily possible.''
Others are moving faster. Hebden Bridge, a village in the county of Yorkshire, followed Modbury's example in September. On Nov. 30, Borough Councilor Elaine Still declared Overton plastic bag-free at the town's Christmas light ceremony.
Overton shopkeeper Peter Baker rallied more than 60 businesses that gave away a total of 33,000 plastic bags a month, to shift to renewable alternatives after reading about Modbury's effort. Retailers will switch to biodegradable cornstarch bags, with most outlets charging 10 pence (21 cents) each.
The campaign is changing consumer attitudes.
``I hadn't thought about it before, and every time I used to go out I would come back with loads of plastic bags and chuck them all away,'' says Jane Ford, 60, toting one of the cloth bags Overton retailers now sell. ``Now I use this all the time.''
Paper Bag Costs
Abandoning plastic bags may not be as environmentally friendly as people think, says David Tyson, chief executive officer of the Packaging and Industrial Films Association, a U.K. trade group whose 70 members sell about 300 million pounds ($617 million) of plastic bags annually.
Production and transport of paper bags, which are 10 times heavier than plastic, produces more of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming than the lighter alternative, he says.
``It's important that we work together to protect the environment, but it isn't helped by these knee-jerk suggestions that we ban products,'' Tyson says. ``The best approach is to try and develop a responsible attitude in the use of bags.''
Hosking, the Modbury activist, says plastic bags are just a small part of a larger environmental crisis.
In her travels she's seen turtles eating trash and an ``avian apocalypse'' in the Midway Islands, where albatrosses starve because their stomachs are filled with plastic.
East of Hawaii, ocean currents form a ``gyre,'' or giant eddy, that dumps rubbish from around the world on the islands. At Volcanoes National Park, Hosking saw chest-high piles of waste along a beach.
``There was all this plastic: everything in your house made of plastic, kid's toys, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, toiletries, DVDs, CDs, parts of TVs,'' she says. ``Knocking out plastic bags is a really tiny thing to do, but I hope it starts to get people thinking about the bigger picture.''
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|From: Sam Citron||2/4/2008 11:38:15 AM|
|Motivated by a Tax, Irish Spurn Plastic Bags [NYT]|
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
DUBLIN — There is something missing from this otherwise typical bustling cityscape. There are taxis and buses. There are hip bars and pollution. Every other person is talking into a cellphone. But there are no plastic shopping bags, the ubiquitous symbol of urban life.
In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.
Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.
“When my roommate brings one in the flat it annoys the hell out of me,” said Edel Egan, a photographer, carrying groceries last week in a red backpack.
Drowning in a sea of plastic bags, countries from China to Australia, cities from San Francisco to New York have in the past year adopted a flurry of laws and regulations to address the problem, so far with mixed success. The New York City Council, for example, in the face of stiff resistance from business interests, passed a measure requiring only that stores that hand out plastic bags take them back for recycling.
But in the parking lot of a Superquinn Market, Ireland’s largest grocery chain, it is clear that the country is well into the post-plastic-bag era. “I used to get half a dozen with every shop. Now I’d never ever buy one,” said Cathal McKeown, 40, a civil servant carrying two large black cloth bags bearing the bright green Superquinn motto. “If I forgot these, I’d just take the cart of groceries and put them loose in the boot of the car, rather than buy a bag.”
Gerry McCartney, 50, a data processor, has also switched to cloth. “The tax is not so much, but it completely changed a very bad habit,” he said. “Now you never see plastic.”
In January almost 42 billion plastic bags were used worldwide, according to reusablebags.com; the figure increases by more than half a million bags every minute. A vast majority are not reused, ending up as waste — in landfills or as litter. Because plastic bags are light and compressible, they constitute only 2 percent of landfill, but since most are not biodegradable, they will remain there.
In a few countries, including Germany, grocers have long charged a nominal fee for plastic bags, and cloth carrier bags are common. But they are the exception.
In the past few months, several countries have announced plans to eliminate the bags. Bangladesh and some African nations have sought to ban them because they clog fragile sewerage systems, creating a health hazard. Starting this summer, China will prohibit sellers from handing out free plastic shopping bags, but the price they should charge is not specified, and there is little capacity for enforcement. Australia says it wants to end free plastic bags by the end of the year, but has not decided how.
Efforts to tax plastic bags have failed in many places because of heated opposition from manufacturers as well as from merchants, who have said a tax would be bad for business. In Britain, Los Angeles and San Francisco, proposed taxes failed to gain political approval, though San Francisco passed a ban last year. Some countries, like Italy, have settled for voluntary participation.
But there were no plastic bag makers in Ireland (most bags here came from China), and a forceful environment minister gave reluctant shopkeepers little wiggle room, making it illegal for them to pay for the bags on behalf of customers. The government collects the tax, which finances environmental enforcement and cleanup programs.
Furthermore, the environment minister told shopkeepers that if they changed from plastic to paper, he would tax those bags, too.
While paper bags, which degrade, are in some ways better for the environment, studies suggest that more greenhouse gases are released in their manufacture and transportation than in the production of plastic bags.
Today, Ireland’s retailers are great promoters of taxing the bags. “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it,” said Senator Feargal Quinn, founder of the Superquinn chain. “But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”
Mr. Quinn is also president of EuroCommerce, a group representing six million European retailers. In that capacity, he has encouraged a plastic bag tax in other countries. But members are not buying it. “They say: ‘Oh, no, no. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be acceptable in our country,’ ” Mr. Quinn said.
As nations fail to act decisively, some environmentally conscious chains have moved in with their own policies. Whole Foods Market announced in January that its stores would no longer offer disposable plastic bags, using recycled paper or cloth instead, and many chains are starting to charge customers for plastic bags.
But such ad hoc efforts are unlikely to have the impact of a national tax. Mr. Quinn said that when his Superquinn stores tried a decade ago to charge 1 cent for plastic bags, customers rebelled. He found himself standing at the cash register buying bags for customers with change from his own pocket to prevent them from going elsewhere.
After five years of the plastic bag tax, Ireland has changed the image of cloth bags, a feat advocates hope to achieve in the United States. Vincent Cobb, the president of reusablebags.com, who founded the company four years ago to promote the issue, said: “Using cloth bags has been seen as an extreme act of a crazed environmentalist. We want it to be seen as something a smart, progressive person would carry.”
Some things worked to Ireland’s advantage. Almost all markets are part of chains that are highly computerized, with cash registers that already collect a national sales tax, so adding the bag tax involved a minimum of reprogramming, and there was little room for evasion.
The country also has a young, flexible population that has proved to be a good testing ground for innovation, from cellphone services to nonsmoking laws. Despite these favorable conditions, Ireland still ended up raising the bag tax 50 percent, after officials noted that consumption was rising slightly.
Ireland has moved on with the tax concept, proposing similar taxes on customers for A.T.M. receipts and chewing gum. (The sidewalks of Dublin are dotted with old wads.) The gum tax has been avoided for the time being because the chewing gum giant Wrigley agreed to create a public cleanup fund as an alternative. This year, the government plans to ban conventional light bulbs, making only low-energy, long-life fluorescent bulbs available.
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|To: richardred who wrote (18)||2/24/2008 9:51:17 PM|
|Polyester maker Wellman files for Chapter 11|
Friday February 22, 5:44 pm ET
Wellman Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.
Along with the filing, the polyester maker has received a commitment from its revolving credit-facility lenders for up to $225 million in debtor-in-possession financing.
The funds, combined with cash from operations, will be used to fund future operating expenses, including employee and supplier obligations.
"Although the company has taken numerous steps to reduce its debt and strengthen its balance sheet through the disposition of certain businesses, headcount reductions and other cost reductions, these actions were not sufficient to offset the deterioration in business conditions and the cost of our substantial debt obligations," says Thomas Duff, chief executive.
The bankruptcy filing allows Wellman (OTCBB:WMAN - News) to operate "while continuing to pursue our previously announced strategic-alternative process," Duff adds.
In October, Wellman hired Lazard Freres & Co., an investment bank with extensive experience in mergers and acquisitions for chemical companies, to explore its options.
Wellman sells polyester to the apparel, home-furnishings, nonwovens, industrial and fiberfill markets. The company is based in Shrewsbury, N.J., but most of its management and corporate staffers work in northern Lancaster County.
Published February 22, 2008 by the Charlotte Business Journal
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|From: richardred||2/27/2008 1:18:17 PM|
|Metabolix Still in Development|
Wednesday February 27, 9:44 am ET
By Jason Napodano, CFA
Metabolix, Inc. (NasdaqGM: MBLX - News) is a biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of environmentally sustainable, economically attractive alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics, fuels and chemicals. We are pleased to see the company's progress with its lead technology platform, PHA Natural Plastic.
Metabolix is set to commence commercial production of Natural Plastic in December 2008. However, the company is several years away from achieving profitability.
Metabolix is working on the development and commercialization of environmentally sustainable and economically attractive alternatives to petrochemical-based plastics, fuels and chemicals. Metabolix has a key strategic alliance with Archer Daniel Midland (NYSE: ADM - News), one of the world's largest agricultural products processors and industrial fermentors, for the development and commercialization of Natural Plastic.
Metabolix is working on a second technology platform which is being developed for the co-production of Natural Plastic and biomass feedstock. However, this program is still in an early stage of development. It is difficult to value MBLX shares, given its little revenue and negative EPS. Based on our long-term earnings model, we do not see MBLX posting positive EPS over the next several years.
We rate the shares a Hold with a price target of $18. The stock is currently trading at $16.97. A suitable strategic partnership for the switchgrass program could provide upside to the name.
Arpita Dutt, CA, contributed to this report.
Read the full analyst report on MBLX.
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|To: richardred who wrote (49)||3/4/2008 3:07:16 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|Today MBLX hit a new yearly low ($14.85) and is getting closer to becoming just another broken IPO. I have seen no significant news since the prospectus. It has been and will remain a development stage company for some time to come. Everything depends on their transition from using expensive to corn to cheap cellulose as a feedstock for biodegradable plastics and energy.|
I have been long and short in the past, but have no present position in the stock. Given the state of investor sentiment, it is not surprising to me that most speculators have fled these shares, not for "greener" pastures, but for more traditional energy and agricultural stocks that are making profits in today's uncertain environment. Perhaps a leadership change in the White House may provide the next catalyst to move MBLX higher, with a change in environmental and energy policy. Until such a change occurs, it wouldn't surprise me to see MBLX trade in single digits, given the financial climate and investors tendencies to throw babies out with the bathwater.
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|To: richardred who wrote (52)||3/19/2008 8:05:13 PM|
|From: Sam Citron|
|I wouldn't get too excited about it although it was strong in a very weak market today, especially for commodities.|
I'm trying not to even look at it until October when tax loss selling kicks in. The kind of bear market we are in, it could lose half its market value by then, before the Clinton plant is even completed. Depends partially on their cash burn rate.
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|To: richardred who wrote (48)||3/31/2008 12:52:53 PM|
|Eastman Sells PET, PTA Assets in Europe|
Monday March 31, 11:32 am ET
KINGSPORT, Tenn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN - News) today announced it has completed the sale of its European PET and PTA assets to Indorama. Included in the sale are Eastman’s PET facility and related businesses in the United Kingdom and its PET and PTA facilities and related businesses in the Netherlands. The total cash proceeds of the transaction are €224 million or approximately US $354 million, subject to adjustments in working capital. The transaction will result in a gain on sale in the Company's consolidated financial statements for first quarter.
"This transaction completes Eastman’s divestitures of its non-strategic PET and PTA assets located outside the U.S.,” said Gregory O. Nelson, Eastman executive vice president and polymers business group head.
Eastman announced in December 2007 that it had entered into an agreement for the sale, subject to customary approvals.
About Eastman Chemical Company
Eastman manufactures and markets chemicals, fibers and plastics worldwide. It provides key differentiated coatings, adhesives and specialty plastics products; is a major supplier of cellulose acetate fibers; and produces PET polymers for packaging. As a Responsible Care® company, Eastman is committed to achieving the highest standards of health, safety, environmental and security performance. Founded in 1920 and headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., Eastman is a FORTUNE 500 company with 2007 sales of $6.8 billion and approximately 10,500 employees. For more information about Eastman and its products, visit www.eastman.com.
Eastman Chemical Company
Tracy Kilgore, +1-423-224-0498
Greg Riddle, +1-212-835-1620
Source: Eastman Chemical Company
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