The University of Auckland's Plastics Centre of Excellence, which opened this month, has received grants supporting research into greener plastics.

The Plastics Centre of Excellence will have a commercial focus, according to the university, and offer its services to companies. The Centre aims to develop technologies, conduct research and provide training.

Technology New Zealand has given the Centre two grants, totaling nearly $700,000, to research replacements for PVC and to improve the strength of polylactic acid (PLA). PVC, although used in myriad hard and soft products, is toxic and can contaminate humans and the environment throughout its lifecycle. Many companies are moving away from PVC in products. Recently Apple announced it newest iPods will not contain any PVC.

PLA is a biodegradable material based on corn or sugarcane and is being used in various applications including bottles, diningware and clothing. Although more companies are investigating PLA's uses and viability in different applications, they are also looking at how to properly dispose of it. In most cases, bioplastic and other compostable items need to be taken to an industrial composter to fully degrade and be reused.

The Plastics Centre, a joint initiative of the University of Auckland and the trade association Plastics New Zealand, is supported with a $5 million government grant being matched by the plastics industry.