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MicroGREEN launches InCycle sheet product at Pack Expo

Tapping into another potentially huge market, MicroGREEN Polymers Inc. (Seattle, WA) is now promoting its patented technology, which maximizes the use of recycled plastics through the addition of tiny air pockets, into the packaging sector with its new sheet offering dubbed InCycle.

(Seattle, WA) is now promoting its patented technology, which maximizes the use of recycled plastics through the addition of tiny air pockets, into the packaging sector with its new sheet offering dubbed InCycle. Launched at Pack Expo in Chicago, InCycle sheet, based on recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) was on display as thermoformed and convolute cups, convolute overwraps, printed flat sheet, blister pack cards, thermoformed trays, and folded boxes, clamshells, and other food-service containers.

Billing InCycle as a lightweight, insulating, grease and moisture proof, printable sheet, MicroGREEN said the product represents a cost-effective, sustainable alternative for print, packaging, and container applications. InCycle recycled PET sheets are expanded via the Ad-Air technology, which reduces the total amount of plastic required for an application. MicroGREEN says the amount of source material recycled from one 20-oz PET beverage bottle can produce seven 12-oz hot-beverage cups made from InCycle. When sheet is run through the Ad-Air process, it expands 1.5 times in the machine and transverse directions, while doubling in thickness.

Tiny bubbles, big functionality
InCycle sheets can also improve recycled PET's functionality in terms of useful temperature range, insulation, flexibility, and impact strength. The size and location of the bubbles within the sheet can be tailored to meet the various performance requirements for different types of print, packaging, and container applications. Compared to solid PET, InCycle sheets are highly insulating, maintaining their integrity from service temperatures of -20°F up to 400°F. This broad range opens up extreme temperature applications like freezer-to-microwave meals for recycled PET. Beyond food packaging, Malone anticipates applications within signage, with InCycle sheet replacing vinyl of polystyrene for the back-lit signs like you might see at a bus stop.

Manipulation of the bubbles also allows InCycle sheets to exhibit a variety of finishes, including high-gloss, semi-gloss, matte, and satin, with the product featuring an integral skin that is grease and moisture proof and can be printed on directly. Naturally white without the addition of pigments, the sheet is also highly reflective, helping print "jump" off the surface.

By engineering the size of the bubble, Malone said MicroGREEN can make the sheet more or less opaque, achieving a bright-white hue without having to add a colorant like titanium dioxide or an opacifier. Available gauges for InCycle sheets range from 0.022 to 0.060 inch, and the line can run 57 inches wide. For a printing application, typical sheet sizes would be 4-by-8 and 4-by-10 ft.

A new business model
MicroGREEN president and CEO, Tom Malone, told PlasticsToday that as the company moves to expand the commercial application of the Ad-Air technology, it has also changed its business model. The company had originally contracted with a Green Bay, WI firm for the production of its sheet, anticipating some trial production there and licensing of the underlying manufacturing technology. It now has its own production site in Arlington, WA, and will be producing the InCycle sheet itself.

The 35,000-ft2 plant currently has one production line up and running, with a total capacity for 100 million ft2/yr, assuming a two-shift production schedule. MicroGREEN has invested approximately $10 million on the plant, with a "significant" portion of that tied up in machinery. Malone said that at this time, the facility has 25 employees, with the expectation that 15 more will be added in the short term.

Malone said his company has spoken with all levels of the supply chain, including retailers, consumer packaged goods (CPGs) manufacturers, and converters that supply CPGs, with a "warm reception" from all the various players. "We make the world's most recycled plastic more functional," Malone said. In addition to the simplicity and recyclability of the PET sheet product, Malone said the market is still expressing concerns about how bioplastics might contaminate the existing plastics waste stream.

In the WSJ innovation awards announced in September, MicroGREEN's technology was named a runner up in the Materials and Other Base Technologies category. Tony Deligio

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