Tom's of Maine is studying the viability of using non-GMO potatoes that otherwise would be tossed in the garbage as a feedstock for biodegradable packaging.
Potato starch can be used to form polylactic acid (PLA), a plastic resin that could be used for mouthwash bottles or deodorant canisters, two products initially targeted under the company's initiative.
The research is part of a partnership that includes the University of Maine and the Sustainable Bioplastics Council of Maine, which are seeking ways of recapturing local agricultural waste.
Potatoes are the biggest commodity in the state's $1.2 billion annual agricultural industry. The potatoes that Tom's of Maine proposes using normally would be destined for landfills.
“One interesting finding from our research is that for the initial plant, we don’t need to take potatoes away from use as food to meet the needs for bioplastic production,” said Kate Dickerson, a researcher with the University of Maine.
Other companies are experimenting with ways to turn plants into plastics, but most of those efforts tend to use corn.
PepsiCo has considered more radical uses for potato waste, such as churning it up into compostable packaging for its U.K. snack brand, Walkers. Elsewhere, champagne company Veuve Clicquot has used biodegradable paper made partially out of potato starch to keep its bottles cool.
Tom's of Maine has adopted other innovative packaging options. Two years ago it eliminated aluminum toothpaste tubes in favor of laminate, which is lighter, less energy intensive and cuts steps out of the manufacturing process.
At least 40 percent of the materials used in Tom’s of Maine’s packaging is sourced from recycled materials.