East Idaho shipper to debut potato starch sack

Chris Wada, director of marketing and export at Wada Farms in Eastern Idaho, shows a brochure featuring a bag his company plans to use soon made partially with potato starch.

PINGREE, Idaho — An Eastern Idaho fresh potato packing facility will soon start shipping produce in a unique plastic sack made with up to 25 percent potato starch.

Wada Farms will be the exclusive marketer of Tater Made sacks for BiologiQ — a locally based company that developed a process to more economically make plastic from plant starch. The grower-shipper plans to start using the sack for its 5-pound Russet bags later this month.

Chris Wada, the produce company’s director of marketing and export, also intends to offer Tater Made sacks to Wada customers and retailers interested in demonstrating their commitment to sustainability.

“We’ve had strong interest from major grocery retailers in the country,” Wada said.

About half of potato waste water from processing factories in Idaho, Oregon and Washington is processed into starch, which has traditionally been used in products such as cardboard boxes, book bindings and glue.

BiologiQ will use that starch to make Eco Starch Resin pellets, which plastic product makers can blend with traditional petroleum-based pellets. The plant-derived pellets — which may also be made with some corn and cassava starch — also support microbes that break down plastics. Initial testing indicates that the Tater Made bag will biodegrade within one to three years in a landfill setting.

“Anybody making bags can use our pellets with existing equipment,” said BiologiQ President Brad LaPray.

Other companies have fermented carbohydrates in plant starch to make sugars, which they convert into plastic polymers — a process that can cost up to four times as much as making plastic from petroleum. BiologiQ has discovered a way to make plastic from starch directly, without fermentation. The company’s process yields plastic containing plant starch for roughly the same cost as conventional plastic production.

“I think it’s good news for farmers,” LaPray said.

LaPray hopes Tater Made bags will eventually contain up to 60 percent plant starch. LaPray sees great potential for the sacks, especially in California where Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a ban on single-use plastic sacks to protect aquatic ecosystems.

LaPray said he’s also developing plastic agricultural mulch film containing potato starch. The product would decompose safely into the soil and allow producers to till it in rather than going to the trouble of removing it.

“It costs just as much to collect and dispose of film as to buy it,” LaPray said.

LaPray said his company is “just beginning the process of going to the commercial market” for the film, which breaks down too rapidly for field use in its current formulation.

BiologiQ has a plant in Blackfoot, along with an office in the former Wada Farms shipping facility, and another office in Idaho Falls. The small technology business also has staff in Japan, Thailand and Indonesia seeking to develop products in those countries. His company currently employs a staff of 15, including eight Idaho workers, but LaPray’s target is to employ up to 100 workers in his first plant. He also hopes to open a second plant in the Idaho Falls area.

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