Injection molder introduces green caterware

VistaTek LLC, a custom injection molding company headquartered in Stillwater, MN, introduced SelfEco, LLC, an independent company that manufacturers plastics made from plant-based materials. Designed for catering and food service, SelfEco produces affordable caterware, cutlery, and drinkware that is industrial biocompostable.

"Plant-based plastics are important to the future of injection molding and the plastics industry," said Danny Mishek, SelfEco President and VistaTek Managing Director. "We are excited to provide this new, sustainable product series."

Mishek told PlasticsToday that the goal of VistaTek's management was to grow the company, but how to grow it was the question. "We can increase customers, increase the works we do for our customers, or we can create proprietary products and be our own customer."

Coming up with a product was the next hurdle. Miskek has been attending a lot of conferences on sustainability, listening to scientists, academia and compounders talking about materials. While attending networking cocktail parties, he noticed that much of the plastic plates, cutlery and drinkware was being thrown away because of the food that is left over and stuck to the plastic.

"We might think these items are being recycled, but they're not," Mishek explained. "Composters want the food and recyclers want the plastic - but not the food. So it hit me that why don't we make the plastic from plant-based material and these hotels can throw the plates, cutlery, food and all into a bin that gets composted. Thus SelfEco was born."

Mishek and his team came up with some unique designs for single-serve catering ware, and has patents pending. "We designed an application in which these spoons and cutlery are easier to handle," he said. "We then asked caterers what they would like to see in plates and cutlery that would make these items better. Since single-serve pre-portioned settings are popular we designed our plates, bowls and cups to accommodate this. We were very aggressive in our product development, designing around the flaws in the PLA material to make it robust. We've gotten BPI certification on our clear PLA material products, and the colored materials will be BPI certified by August."

All SelfEco products are made from a biopolymer called polyactic acid (PLA) which performs much like traditional plastics but is not petroleum-based. Using PLA reduces dependence on fossil fuels and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions. SelfEco produces plasticwares that are earth-friendly and sustainable with the intent to mindfully manufacturer, compost, recycle and reuse its products.

In March, Mishek and SelfEco attended the CaterSource Event Solutions Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas, which is owned by PlasticsToday's parent company, UBM. "The show was fantastic," he said. "We got great leads, and we've gotten orders from many of them already."

Many of the caterers have written back to SelfEco telling the company of the creative ways they are using the SelfEco products. For example, the single-serve ice cream spoon was used by one caterer to serve Bangers and Mash at a cocktail party. "It's fun to see how the caterers are coming up with new ways to use our products," Mishek said. "Our Asian spoon was used in the last game in a suite for the Minnesota Timberwolves."

"Featuring our patent-pending hanger design, our plasticware is stackable with cutlery artfully attached to enhance food presentation while minimizing germs from utensils falling on the floor and lost utensils," added Chad Shaffer, SelfEco Product Designer.

Mishek said that the one really different about SelfEco is that the products are sold direct to the consumers. "We've always been a custom molder - a B2B company - and never sold to consumers before, so that's different for us."

The company is currently in discussion with resellers and they are ramping up their inventory, and the goal of growing the business is being achieved. VistaTek and SelfEco has gone from 23 employees to 50 employees over the past two years, and just added its ninth injection molding machine. Mishek said he hopes to add two more in the next couple of months. In July, SelfEco will be introducing a new home and garden line of products.

"After 17 years, it's like starting a whole new business," Mishek said. "The best thing is that even though we're a 'green' company with sustainable products, we're competitive with traditional thermoplastic plastic products from Asia. I want this to be a competitive product with a lot of upside and value."  

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