Friday, January 7, 2011

Starch Tech: "Nuts" About Being Green

There’s something about receiving a package in the mail, opening it, and seeing a gift surrounded in environmentally friendly packing peanuts.  It means that the gift inside is valuable and should be treated with care, and so should the environment.

Although Styrofoam packing peanuts may treat our gently-mailed gifts with care, they do not treat the environment with that same amount of care.  Styrofoam is notorious for piling up in American landfills.  Not only is this non-sustainable packing material harmful to the earth, but it is also a hazardous waste.

In the early 1990’s, Edward Boehmer, a chemical engineer and food scientist, decided to unpack the peanut problem.  He began with the development of a new biodegradable packing product; starch-based packing peanuts.  The new product was developed; however, it was not without its issues.

By 1996, Boehmer had purchased Clean Green Packing, a company that sold boxes and tape for shipping in addition to producing the starch-based packing peanuts.  While running Clean Green Packing Company, Boehmer continued to develop a biodegradable packing material into a pellet form.  A small extrusion machine, also used to “puff out” cheese puffs and breakfast cereal, was modified to expand the resin into the finished packaging material sold around the world today.  Boehmer’s development helped to reduce the cost, ease the distribution, and improve the quality of the original packing peanut.  Today, a single trailer load of resin can produce 23 trailer loads of finished packaging material! 

The Mighty I is an environmentally
friendly packing peanut.
 The earth-friendly peanut, known as The Mighty I (a name that changes depending on where it is sold) is a “green” packaging material that is made from starch.  This material can be re-used, composted, or disposed of by dissolving it in a sink or bath tub.  Although the starchy peanut is small in size, it has created a largely successful company known as Starch Tech Inc., a business that occupies 50,000 square feet of manufacturing in Golden Valley, Minnesota.  Starch Tech Inc. has been recognized five times as one of the Twin Cities Fastest Growing Private Companies by the Minneapolis and St. Paul Business Journal as well as one of the Fastest Growing Companies in the United States by Inc. Magazine.  Starch Tech has now gone global, distributing its product worldwide.

Denise Pech, Starch Tech’s marketing and sales director, attributes the company’s success to its timing in a market that is ready for an environmentally friendly alternative to the traditional plastic packaging options.  “The success of our development, as well as the timing in the market, produced a winning combination,” Denise said.

Starch Tech Inc. took an existing product, analyzed its flaws, and improved upon it.  In the end, Starch Tech ended up creating a new need; cost effective, environmentally friendly packing material.  Starch Tech focuses on the principle that one can create products that are both environmentally and economically sound.  It is the synergy of these two philosophies and the dedication of its people that establish the foundation for Starch Tech Inc—and we’re “nuts” about it. 

Written by Allison Way.  Allison is a writer and videographer for Think Big Partners, Kansas City's newest entrepreneurial resource.  To read more of Allison's work, visit the Kansas City Entrepreneurship Examiner as well as her articles on Helium, BrooWaha, eZine and Newsvine.

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