Young Upstarts

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Students To Make Biodegradable Plastic Bags A Reality

Most plastic bags we use today will either get incinerated or end up in a landfill somewhere. But not if four University of Arkansas student have anything to say about that – the founders of cycleWood Solutions Inc. intends to make biodegradable plastic shopping bags into reality.

Using technology developed by University of Minnesota biochemist Simo Sarkanen from its Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, the four students started their company after creating a business plan around the technology for an entrepreneurship class.

“The point of the class was to build a viable business,” says Nhiem Cao, president and CEO of cycleWood Solutions, which was recently named regional champion in the 2011 Cleantech Open Business Competition. Cao found the technology, a lignin-based biodegradable plastic, on the Office for Technology Commercialization’s website. They then completed an option agreement for the technology, and later licensed it to launch the startup.

According to Cao, who has more than five years of experience working as a process engineer and wet-end superintendent in the paper industry, one million plastic bags are used globally every minute. Some discarded bags will sit forever in landfills, some will pollute the world’s oceans and landscapes as litter and less than one percent will be recycled. Cao hopes cycleWood will be part of the solution to this problem.

“Our product will biodegrade in 150 days,” says Cao, who anticipates that their plastic bags will cost slightly more than traditional plastic bags but still be a substantial savings over biodegradable options currently available.

“Instead of having a growing problem, the problem will gradually go away.”

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Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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  • Nick Coulson

    are these bags starch based like other biodegradable options?

    • Anonymous

      It’s a “thermoplastic”, whatever that means.