Alaskan developer sees fast growth for plastics

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An eco-packaging developer in Alaska says it is ready to ramp up production for a wide range of applications for hemp-based plastics. Best Practices Packaging (BPP) is working with long-time partner PENTA5, a Florida-based group of companies that has the capacity to co-pack over a billion units a year, according to Kevin Tubbs, BPP’s president. The partners currently provide co-packing services for hemp products such as protein powder, hulled hemp seeds, toasted hemp seeds and hemp oil that are also developed by BPP.

“We are not only the producers of bio-plastic products; we are users as well,” said Tubbs. “This gives us a unique competitive advantage,” he said of the partners’ vertically integrated enterprise.

Long-term partners

Tubbs’ Alaska-based design team has partnered with PENTA5 for more than 12 years developing eco-friendly packaging for the beverage, nutritional and pharma industries. BPP creates the packaging and the product while PENTA5 carries out the manufacturing, co-packing, converting, lab work, fulfillment and distribution, Tubbs said.

BPP and PENTA5 are working with compounders in Ohio, Texas and Michigan on production of different kinds of plastics made from hemp, Tubbs said. Those include Michigan-based Noble Polymers, which makes several compounds for plastics production.

With hemp farming just getting started in the USA, Tubbs admits that domestically sourced raw materials are limited. But he sees Canada as able to fill any future gaps in supply. “Luckily, Canadians have been under deregulation for years, and they have a well entrenched industry,” said Tubbs.

Canadian industry spreading out

Hemp pioneers built the Canadian industry based on growing and processing of hemp seed for food, finding a dynamic market in the USA. With recent regulatory changes, many firms have turned their attention this year to production for CBD.

But there is also a faction pushing a “whole crop utilization” scheme to exploit the plant for a wider range of products across all hemp sectors including fiber. Investment has already started in processing facilities in British Columbia that would turn out fiber and other raw materials.

And Just BioFiber Structural Solutions, Calgary, recently got about $5 million in funding to purchase and install a commercial-scale plant to turn hemp fiber into building materials.

Made in North America

Tubbs said the partners can fill as many as 169 train cars with bioplastic raw materials, which could be the basis for 50 million pounds of annual bioplastic production. “We’re commercializing hemp bioplastic for the first time in North American history,” Tubbs said. “We can produce virtually whatever the market demands.

“And all of our products are from North American hemp sources only. This is a specific sales feature for our North American bioplastic consumers,” said Tubbs.

The partners have already developed a hemp-based polypropylene and a hemp-based poly lactic acid for 3D printers and other applications. He said BPP’s study of hemp in plastic has proven the material has virtually unlimited possibilities considering its strength, flexibility and opacity. “Anything you need, we can put into the manufacture of this product,” Tubbs said.

‘Fortune 500-sized users’

Tubbs said growing demand will bring down costs, which has thus far proven the biggest barrier to development of such eco-plastics generally. “This opens the door to Fortune 500-sized users for the first time,” he added, noting that the plastic pellet manufacturers BPP works with produce on a massive scale.

“So many before us were speculators who never made any plastic, and there have been some large crashes,” Tubbs said of previous initiatives to develop the hemp plastic sector on a large scale. “But our in-house volume is enough to float this.”

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