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Spotlight On Propper and proganic: Old-school molder making big splash with new material

What does a well-established injection molder with 62 years of history, whose business is driven by the sale of consumer goods with chic designs, do for an encore? For Germany’s Propper, the answer was to create a proprietary bioplastic, establish a subsidiary and brand around this material, and then market the heck out of it.


The marketing proof will be on store shelves around the world in the next months as the company completes its multiyear development project and begins widespread sale of commercial applications. Even before it realized any revenue with the new bioplastic projects, it already had reaped a host of awards, including the 2010 Biomaterial of the Year prize at the Hannover trade fair earlier this year—the world’s largest industrial trade fair—and the Home Style Award 2010 at a recent consumer goods fair in Shanghai.

Handling the manufacturing and marketing of the firm’s bioplastic compound is Proganic (Rain am Lech, Germany), a subsidiary founded last year for the purpose and sharing the name given the material. Oliver Schmid (pictured), CEO of Proganic, says the company’s intent is simple but profound: Offer a 100% carbon-neutral (natural) alternative for plastic consumer goods, and be profitable at it.

“Consumers will be willing to pay 20%-25% more for such products, we think, especially for nonfood products,” he predicts. Proganic’s proprietary compounds consist of bioplastics PLA and PHA, plus natural waxes and minerals. “We started out working with WPCs [wood-plastic composites] but we never got to a 100% WPC product,” he recalls. The company shifted gears and began development of its own compound after it recognized that most “bioplastic compounds” have some degree of petrochemical-based content. 

Proganic runs on standard injection molding and extrusion machinery and molds/tooling, adds Schmid. Heat resistance is to 110°C, and it is food safe and UV resistant. It is durable as well, with a modulus of 4300 N/mm2, higher than that of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) or polystyrene (PS), and a Charpy impact strength that falls between the two.

The material is certified to DIN 14851/2 for home composting, so this is not another “biodegradable” product that needs to land in one of the few industrial composting facilities to truly degrade. Only natural fillers and colorants or other additives are used, says Schmid. Colors available so far are white, gray, blue, and a single shade of red (without cadmium). “It degrades similar to wood,” he continues, with full biodegradation in less than 12 months at 20°C, “faster than spruce” at a temperature where most bioplastics do not even begin to degrade. Composting is CO2-neutral with no residue, and the material also can be burned CO2-neutral.

Plenty of companies are developing bioplastics, but Proganic also has its commercial ducks in a row. “We invited market leaders in various product categories to become partners. We also approached retailers and convinced them of the material,” explains Schmid. Since March 2010 the molder has tested its domestic market with a limited number of products molded from the material, but during 2011 Schmid expects “200-300 products will be commercially available,” with a global reach.

These applications will be marketed with the Proganic brand name and a label that emphasizes the 100% natural recipe. “All of our partners will deliver the same message to the consumers,” he adds. These partners include DIY supplier Obi, food retailer Rewe, lawn and garden products supplier Scotts, Japanese housewares supplier ExtreX, and Marks & Spencer. Toys, brushes, brooms, garden tools/accessories, flower pots, watering cans, and more will be molded and marketed using the material, he says.
Acknowledging the higher cost of the products, Schmid allows, “The last decision will be made by the consumer.” Critical is the 100% natural content claim, he adds: “That’s why so many big retailers are working with us.” Some in the bioplastics community question Proganic’s decision to create its own label, but Schmid argues, “In our opinion, we used a much higher standard; most of the DINs [regarding biodegradability] allow for some petrochemical content. We do not.”  —Matt Defosse

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