BREAKTHROUGH IN RENEWABLE HEMP BIOPLASTIC REPRESENTS ECO-FRIENDLY GAME CHANGER
By Michael Murphy November 12, 2017
NEW HEMP-BASED BIO-PLASTICS LIKE THIS TRANSLUCENT VERSION NOW COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE
Staff writer Michael Murphy recently met with Best Practices Packaging President, Kevin Tubbs, about their role in the recent commercialization of hemp bioplastic. Best Practices is the catalyst behind a partnership of farmers, processors, chemical compounders, injection molders, film extruders and packaging converters, all committed to a better environment. The sheer scale of their breakthrough makes hemp based bioplastic price competitive for the first time in American history. The implications are enormous. The following is an excerpt from that interview:
Remember during olden times, (like last week) when people used to think plastic was made of fossil fuels?
Well, those days are apparently over, thanks to eco-packaging developer Kevin Tubbs, his business partner Mathew Eaton, and the forward-thinking partners of Best Practices Packaging (BPP).
Committed to the cause, Tubbs and company have spent the last 12 years on a mission to save the planet, one eco-friendly package at a time.
The newest development rolling out of BPP carries with it, earth-changing implications. They want us all to imagine a world where fossil fuel-based plastics have been replaced with affordable biopolymers from plant materials like hemp, some even engineered to compost at the end of their lifecycle.
While I am in love with this idea, it may take some education of the market before bioplastic is fully embraced. Personally, when I envision plastic packaging, I still see an oceanic gyre of pop bottles the size of Kentucky in my mind.
As I broach the subject of pollution, it elicits more than one wince from Tubbs, who explains:
“We hope that through offering sustainable, compostable, and renewable, hemp bio-plastic at this scale, at competitive prices, our breakthrough can change the way people view this entire industry”.
If initial demand is any indicator, manufacturers adopting ‘Best Practices’ may indeed give Exxon Mobil a reason to tremble. Packaging companies, car makers, and even his own competitors are contacting Kevin with hopes of using his new plastic to convert to greener options.
“We intend to take the environmental sting out of buying plastic goods by making the plastic…good”
Kevin Tubbs, President Best Practices Packaging
It’s apparent when you meet Tubbs, he doesn’t just talk the talk. We caught up with the former telecom executive turned ecological entrepreneur at his off-grid design center on the banks of the Little Susitna River, located in even tinier Fishhook, Alaska. While he’s not lacking in technology at the “Barn”, Kevin, his family and crew lead decidedly low carbon footprint lives, surrounded by truly unspoiled wilderness about an hour north of Anchorage.
For over a decade, BPP has been focused on bringing to market eco-friendly packaging solutions with one consistent theme: Respect for the planet.
Industrialists have known for decades that hemp held remarkable properties. In 1938, Popular Mechanics magazine touted Hemp as being the next “Billion Dollar Crop with over 25,000 uses and over 5,000 textile uses alone. The seeds of the Hemp Plant are considered so nutritious they are called a superior super-food (Containing ALL 21 Amino Acids & Omega EFA’s in the optimal ratio for Human Health, just to name a couple!).
We had a few questions for Kevin, and his answers are in italics below.
SO HOW DID THIS BREAKTHROUGH COME ABOUT?
“Synergy; We are catalysts in this venture. One of our partners is arguably the largest producer of nutritional hemp products in North America. Another is one of the largest flexible packaging companies in the USA, capable of co-packing slightly over a billion units a year. Together, we started co-packing a range of superfoods, hemp nutritional products such as high protein powder, hemp hearts, and hemp oil, as well as snacks like toasted hemp seeds. In ramping up for the project, I came to understand that the residual product left from making all these nutritional items is an unusual form of biomass. While normally, it’s sold as cattle feed for its high protein value, with some testing I discovered that once through our unique treatment process, it also happens to be a superb feedstock for making a range of masterbatch bioplastics. Initially, my goal was simply to make enough hemp plastic so that we could wrap all of our nutritional products in ultra-green hemp containers. The response was such a wealth of wide open arms, that we started to grasp the gravity of our development. Now, we see clearly the future implications of our unique bioplastic, as we commercialize the product and open it up to a world of additional users”
WHAT MAKES YOUR APPROACH UNIQUE?
“We are not only the producers of our product; we also are primary users of it as well. This gives us a unique competitive advantage. This vertical integration is also paired with new technology that has never previously been applied to this medium.”
WHAT KINDS OF PLASTIC ARE YOU PRODUCING?
“It’s endless, we can produce virtually whatever the market demands. To start things off, we made a Hemp Polypropylene, followed by a hemp-based Poly Lactic Acid for 3D printing machines and myriad other uses. There appears to be nearly no limitation on the kinds of plastic we can make with hemp, adding characteristics like extra strength, flexibility and opacity. Anything you need, we can put into the manufacture of this product. Our current capacity well exceeds 50 million lbs. of hemp bioplastics Per harvest and we expect to nearly double that next year.
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO DO THIS?
“I am forever thankful for being able to live here in Alaska, and work abroad. It’s a pristine place where you can hike for hundreds of miles without seeing any trace of man. I think most people WANT to be eco-conscious but today, it’s not so easy. We intend to take the environmental sting out of buying plastic goods by making the plastic… good”
Considering himself more innovator than inventor, Kevin recognizes he’s been walking in the footsteps of famed industrialist Henry Ford.
Tubbs explained to me that just like Ford and his crew, the Best Practices team is working on bioplastic because necessity is the mother of invention. The issue for Tubbs is ecology centered, ensuring that he makes his own contribution to protecting the environment. Ford pioneered conversion from metal body panels’ to hemp plastic during wartime (metals were rationed at the time and desperately needed for our nations defense effort).
Known for handing a hammer to admirers of his hemp cars, and letting them take a whack to see if they could strike a quarter panel hard enough to hurt it. Ford is quoted: “My hemp body panels can’t be beat”
“It turns out that ol’ Henry was right”, says Kevin. “Hemp is absolutely ideal for making a wide range of renewable, compostable bioplastics and can be engineered to offer nearly any attribute commonly found in a raw fossil-based polymer.”
“At BPP, we have both feet firmly planted in the convergence of new technology and recently lifted governmental restrictions on hemp” explains Kevin. He went further saying, “Without these simultaneous events, BPP would not be able to do this at a scale allowing competitive end pricing”
OTHERS FAILED, HOW’D YOU DO IT?
“Unlike our predecessors, our packaging partners go through football fields worth of plastic each year. It’s easier for us to occupy this segment because this in-house volume can capitalize R and D, shouldering the cost while we convert our clients from fossil-based plastic to these amazing renewables. Certainly, we are leveraging space age technology and pairing it with some proven ideas from the past” says Kevin.
While small amounts of hemp plastic have been made in Asia and Europe where restrictions were jettisoned years ago, Tubbs’ proprietary method used here in North America is unique. Furthermore, the sheer volume of his endeavor has brought the end-user cost down, low enough for even the biggest plastic buyers to take note. Best Practices is working with a group of the largest hemp producers in North America and unlike crude oil, the supply is price stable and never ending, which opens the door to fortune 500-sized users for the first time.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU HAVE TO OVERCOME?
“Since the 1937 “Marihuana Prohibition Act” everyone’s barrier to entry has remained DuPont’s propaganda and the confusing of two plants, resulting in the misguided over-regulation that killed the hemp industry. As people came to their senses, and regulations started to relax, it was then the economic hurdle of small supply=high cost that stood in the way. Thanks to our alliance with the progressive folks in the PENTA5 family, with their dynamic plastic packaging capabilities and the growing hemp resources of our North American hemp grower partners, the time is now to release ourselves from our lethal dependence on fossil fuels and embrace a whole new world of eco-friendly alternatives. Specifically, we are thankful to Charles Murray, President of PENTA5 who has been behind our efforts all the way. We certainly wouldn’t be here without the enthusiastic support of PENTA5 and partners. “
Kevin is no shrinking violet when it comes to getting his message out, he is yet to see an industry that can’t be improved by these ultra-green polymers. Samples of the new designs are landing on the boardroom tables of corporations worldwide, some with carbon footprints currently leaving deep heel marks all over the planet.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HEMP AND MARIJUANA
While the two plants have a similarly shaped leaf, for those who still confuse hemp with marijuana, the difference is stark. First, hemp is not a viable source of THC, (the psychoactive ingredient found in pot). In fact, you could probably smoke an entire farm of hemp and never get high. Unlike its hippy-cherished cousin’, hemp represents an extremely protein-rich, highly fibrous and nutritious superfood. To top it off, it is currently being tested as an effective medicinal substance that can have an effect on a growing list of maladies, everything from healing wounds to helpingpatients with Parkinson’s, and even epilepsy.
WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING?
“Now that quantities are available, I would like to see companies from LEGO to Lamborghini convert their fossil fuel materials to something far more earth friendly like sustainable, renewable, compostable hemp bioplastic. It’s good for the products, the consumers and our planet”
WHAT CAN YOU MAKE WITH HEMP PLASTIC?
“With hemp, we can make just about anything you can make with fossil fuel-based plastic. We are still learning our limitations (or lack thereof), so try us!”
Hemp Bioplastic Pellets and Kevin Tubbs, President, Best Practices Pkg.
Do you have an application for bioplastics? For more information the Best Practices team welcomes your inquiries.