Golf Ball Packaging Drives for the Green

Golf Ball Packaging Drives for the Green

Hot on the heels of Tiger Woods’ record Masters win, a golf ball manufacturer has a historic shot of its own lined up on the green.

Sporting goods manufacturer Dunlop, in a partnership with chemicals company Cargill Dow, has taken the wraps off entirely compostable packaging made from renewable resources, for use with Dunlop’s golf balls.

NatureWorks PLA, developed by Cargill Dow, is a polymer made from corn, and is the first compostable plastic practical for commercial applications, a spokesman for its developers told GreenBiz.

The polymer is being used as the exterior packaging film on Dunlop’s golf ball sleeves, the first time that the product has been used in a non-pilot project, according to Mike O’Brien, Cargill Dow communication director.

“There’s a lot of biodegradable packaging out there, that's not the new thing: the knock on biodegradable packaging is that it almost starts breaking down as soon as you use it because it's attacked by things that are out in the atmosphere,” O’Brien told GreenBiz. “So we've been able to develop a material that unless you have the right conditions it's gonna hold up well during shipping and on the shelf.”

According to O’Brien, the golf ball packaging breaks down in industrial compost when conditions are right -– that’s about 70 degrees centigrade with the right amount of moisture, and time. Say, 70-80 days.

For now, the packaging is only available in Japan, where industrial composting is a way of life, O’Brien said.

“If you think about Japan, it’s an island and they don't have a lot of land for landfills like we do in the United States,” O’Brien said. “They have to make their trash disappear, and one way that's gaining momentum is composting. You can make garbage disappear like food scraps and be able to throw the packaging in with it and you make a nice compost that the farmers get to use.”

O'Brien said the product could be made available in the United States:

"It brings up a point about infrastructure for compostability; it's a little more hit and miss in the U.S., O'Brien said.

When asked if the Nature Works golf ball sleeves would be any less expensive or cleaner for manufacturers to produce than traditional alternatives, O’Brien said there could be some efficiencies, but that Nature Works “is in the ballpark of other plastics.”

Where the gains are evident, O’Brien said, is at the end of the pipeline. “When you want it to go away, it'll go away,” he said.

According to its manufacturers, NatureWorks can be used to make both flexible and rigid packaging, and can also be spun into fibers to make clothing. The carbon used to make the polymer is taken from plant starches, which are broken down into natural sugars. Following a process of fermentation and separation, carbon and other constituents of the sugars are formed into polymers. By using corn rather than petroleum as the feedstock, NatureWorks PLA uses 20% to 50% less petroleum than comparable plastics, according to Cargill Dow.

Cargill Dow LLC is joint venture between Cargill Incorporated and Dow Chemical, established with the intention of developing high-performance materials from annually renewable resources.