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New Zealand Plant-based Packing Technology To Be Sold Globally

A new company has been established to market a sustainable plant-based alternative to polystyrene, developed through a government-funded Crown Research Institute collaboration.

The new company, ZealaFoam Holdings Limited, will focus on commercial opportunities for the plastic replacement known as ZealaFoam. The Biopolymer Network Limited (BPN) – a joint venture between AgResearch, Plant & Food Research and Scion – will retain a shareholding in ZealaFoam Holdings, with investment from New Zealand and overseas investors allowing the company to take the technology into commercial production worldwide.

Established in 2005, BPN was created to develop new bio-based materials, using scientific expertise and capability from the three CRI partners. A number of bio-polymer products were developed and tested, the most commercially-promising being ZealaFoam, a 100% plant-based foam with the same functional attributes as polystyrene. The first commercial product, EcoBeans bean bag fill, was launched in 2022 and is now sold in New Zealand and Australia.

“ZealaFoam is a really exciting product with the potential to address some big challenges for the packaging industry globally, particularly around its use of fossil fuels and issues with waste disposal,” says BPN CEO Sarah Heine. “The investment in the new company will see the technology move into a new phase of commercialisation. It’s really rewarding to see technology developed from New Zealand research attracting international attention and offering a unique sustainable alternative to a widely used product.”

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ZealaFoam is made from Polylactic Acid (PLA) sourced from starch derived from a variety of plants such as maize, cassava and sugar cane. ZealaFoam EcoBeans can be used for bean bag fill or loose fill packaging, with the same performance as polystyrene beads. As they are made from plants, EcoBeans are industrially compostable. ZealaFoam is also close to commercialisation as an alternative for moulded polystyrene products, such as chilled produce and fish boxes, helmets, bee boxes and printable film.

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