Bioplastics, Catia Bastioli of Novamont launches recyclable shoe insoles with the USA - Corriere.it
The new material that Catia Bastioli has invented with her Novamont will be used to produce «shoes from shoes, soles from soles». After the Mater-B for compostable shopping bags, the managing director of the Italian green chemistry company known throughout Europe launches the Origo-B version for footwear. It is a biopolymer for the soles of shoes, essentially sneakers, trainers. It serves to make them recyclable and circular. It can be reused in production cycles, but it is also compostable so it can be "returned to nature through selected industrial composters", says a note. It means collaborating for composting with those who produce shoes. Produced in the Patrica and Terni plants, it will be used on machinery in the new Ho Chi Minh City plant by Ortholite, an American company that produces insoles and materials for over 470 brands including Reebok and Lacoste, North Face and Timberland, Clark and Bata, New Balance and Fendi.
The announcement of the exclusive agreement between Bastioli for Novamont and Glenn Barrett, CEO and founder of Ortholite, was signed on March 13th. Together the two companies launch Ortholite Cirqle, «the world's first foam material solution for recyclable bioplastic footwear», says a note. It is a patented foam based on Novamont's Origo-B polymer. «A marriage – comments Bastioli -. We put Origo-B, which is derived from nitrogen, and they put nitrogen expansion technology without chemical additives. We have been working on this project for four years and it is a first step for new applications. This material that is used today for the midsole (the one between the inside and the outside of the shoe, ed.) could also be used for other parts of the shoe. The footwear market is worth 400 billion in the world for about 25 billion shoes produced every year».
Nitrogen and no waste
The new Ortholite Cirqle material is being presented to the manufacturing companies who will also be able to sign agreements for the disposal process. It will be produced this year and according to Bastioli it's revolutionary for two reasons: one, it uses nitrogen, which is found in the air, instead of chemicals; due comes from a very short manufacturing process, of injection molding, and without waste. «It does not release microplastics, which are persistent in the environment», says Bastioli. She that she says she was contacted by the Americans for this project. «They found me – she says – her. Glenn Barrett had come into contact with our people in the US and he wanted to do something with us. Initially I was skeptical, then I realized that he was a visionary and with an enviable technical team. We work side by side to develop materials and technologies together, there is the basis for future collaborations». He confirms Barrett: «We chose Novamont, a hi-tech biopolymer company, for its commitment to quality, innovation and sustainability. We are happy to collaborate for a positive change in the footwear sector». Bastioli cites research by MIT according to which a pair of sneakers generates 14 kilos of carbon dioxide emissions, "like keeping a 100 kilowatt light bulb on for a week".
Novamont expects to close the 2022 financial statements with a growing turnover of around 450 million from 289 in 2020 (414 million in 2021 with an ebitda of 50 million) but a lower gross operating margin than in 2021 ("We are counting on a balanced budget"), because it is affected like others by the increases in energy and raw materials. Which in this case are called glucose, necessary for the fermentation processes, oils, starches. The agreement with Ortholite broadens the spectrum of action outside the usual perimeter of Novamont, from short-lived food products to long-life consumer products. An important step, which however comes at a time made complicated by less attention to green chemistry on the one hand, Bastioli denounces, and by China's expansion on the European market with bioplastics with less stringent characteristics on the other. «Italy is a pioneer in bioplastics, it must be supported, don't stop the race - is the entrepreneur's appeal to the government and the European Union —. Beware of fake products from China». Because «there are many fakes on the market. Starting with the shopping bags».
The "fake" complaint
Bastioli's attention goes on the one hand to the "complete disappearance from the radar of this sector", bioplastics, he says, although "it already employs 3,000 people directly, plus related industries". On the other hand, the acceleration in Beijing which is creating unfair competition, according to the CEO. «In 2020, China married the European model and moderately pushed bioplastics with still unrefined internal rules – says the manager -. But bioplastics from China generally have an impact on the environment 60-70% higher than ours, moreover China does not pay for the Co2 it emits, unlike us, which we have also reinvested in biomaterials in Italy. We import non-pure products from China, which are mixed by European contractors, including Italians, who often add polyethylene. There are more than 100 types of counterfeit bioplastics circulating in Europe». Therefore Bastioli asks for a shield. «The United States - he says - have put a 30% tariff on imports from China, we only 6%. The US is financing investments for new plants. Instead Europe, after having funded a lot of research in this sector, does not recognize bio-based materials, products with low ecological impact, in the new laws». The hope is that biomaterials will also be encouraged "with lower costs, for the Co2 produced, for example for those who produce with a lower environmental impact, or by reducing VAT on green chemical products". Basically, the conditions that determine Chinese dumping are requested to be removed.
Bastioli says to Italian and European policymakers: «Attention, do not reduce our investment strength. We have shown that this sector is strategic. The US and China have understood this too, while Europe is not protecting its plants and productsnor does it encourage them. It's a distraction we can't afford." The attack on the EU is direct. «There has not been the expected support for a sector where Italy has created the bioplastics sector at the service of the bioeconomy. We have over 275 companies in the country with over one billion in turnover. Italy has invested in new plants. We should have been at the center of the ecological transition, instead there was attention to the energy aspects but not to this». On the other hand, the attention has come from the shareholders, given that Versalis (Eni) has risen from 25% to 35% in Novamont (the rest is from NB Renaissance, Investitori Associati and others): «An important step for us and for them. It is the recognition that this sector is strategic, that we have grown, that green chemistry is not a chimera».