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LOWELL - Twenty years ago, everyday plastic products designed to simplify our lives like baby diapers and soda bottles got a bad rap when it came to environmental friendliness. These household plastic products were manufactured from petroleum ߝ a non-renewable resource ߝ and were branded non-biodegradable, taking up precious landfill space.
Today, breakthrough advances in bio-based polymers are helping companies manufacture real world plastic products like dishes and razor handles from biodegradable plastics produced from sustainable materials like corn ߝ significantly minimizing the environmental concerns traditionally associated with plastic products.
“This is the way of the future for manufacturing plastic products,” said Aldo Crugnola, Executive Director of the Plastics Institute of America and Professor of Plastics Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “With these new advances, we have the potential to shift many of the plastic products produced today into a new environmentally friendly manufacturing model. It’s a very exciting time, not only for how it will transform the plastics industry, but for how it will benefit the environment.”
On April 17 and 18, UMass Lowell and the Plastics Institute of America will hold a one-and-a-half day conference entitled “Sustainable Materials Conference: Green Plastics Manufacturing” with industry leaders from around the world presenting the latest breakthrough advances in green plastics manufacturing ߝ from “Processing Natural Plastic for Optimum Performance” to “The Promise of Bioplastics in Reaching for Zero Waste.”
Speakers and presenters are from various leading organizations including Outlast Technologies, Sappi Saiccor, Metabolix, Leistritz, Coperion Corp., Healthy Building Network, Institute for Trade and Agricultural Policy, and the Institute for Local Self Reliance, among others. By sponsoring the conference, UMass Lowell and the Plastics Institute of America hope to facilitate the transformation to this new green plastics manufacturing model ߝ spurring companies to transition away from their current petroleum-based plastics manufacturing operations.
“The movement away from petroleum-based plastics is not only more environmentally friendly, but with the high price of petroleum in today’s market, it now offers companies a viable alternative to petroleum-based manufacturing. Companies can no longer afford not to consider these new manufacturing processes and materials,” according to Professor Robert Malloy, Chair of UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering.
One company leading this charge is Cambridge, Massachusetts-based, Metabolix, Inc. Metabolix has developed and is commercializing environmentally sustainable and totally biodegradable Natural Plastic using corn sugar rather than petroleum as raw material for production.
“We believe that Natural Plastic is a breakthrough technology that has the potential to provide environmentally-conscious companies and consumers with a renewable and sustainable alternative to petrochemical-based plastics," said Jim Barber, President and CEO of Metabolix. "Our involvement with UMass Lowell underscores the importance we placed on continued innovation to create a greener and cleaner alternative."
In fact, many companies are now making the changeover, and are currently utilizing the eco-friendly technology in their manufacturing operations. One such company, Massachusetts-based Recycline, Inc. of Waltham, tapped UMass Lowell’s Plastics Engineering faculty for technical guidance and engineering innovation when the company wanted to manufacture plastic products in an eco-friendly way. Today, Recycline is one of the leaders in the green plastics manufacturing movement ߝ producing plastic products such as razor handles and toothbrushes from sustainable, biodegradable and recycled materials. “UMass Lowell has been critical to our success,” said Eric Hudson, founder of the company. “They helped us with product design, mold design, plastics formulations ߝ virtually every step along the way.”
To learn more about the upcoming conference sponsored by the Plastics Institute of America, UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering and UMass Lowell’s Division of Continuing Studies, Corporate and Distance Education, visit http://continuinged.uml.edu/sustainability2007.
About the Plastics Institute of America
The Plastics Institute of America (PIA) is a not-for-profit educational and research organization dedicated to providing service to the plastics industries since 1961. PIA supports, fosters and guides plastics education and research at all levels to ensure the continued growth of the industry.
About UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering
Established in 1954, UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering houses the nation’s first accredited undergraduate program in Plastics Engineering. In addition to the bachelor’s degree, the department offers master’s and doctoral degrees in Plastic Engineering as well as a new online Graduate Certificate in Plastics Engineering Fundamentals. Staffed by internationally respected experts and authors of definitive plastics engineering texts, the department is a unique forum for discussing contemporary issues in the plastics industry.
About UMass Lowell’s Division of Continuing Studies, Corporate & Distance Education
UMass Lowell's Division of Continuing Studies, Corporate and Distance Education is one of the largest continuing education units in New England. It offers a wide-array of fully-accredited, part-time courses, degrees, and certificates to adult learners on campus and online. The unit also serves as an important educational resource for companies, offering professional development and employee training opportunities at companies worldwide.
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