Green Cell Foam by KTM Industries Inc. has been creating bio-based material for thermal protection and protective packaging applications for nearly 20 years. The Michigan-based company takes U.S. grown, non-GMO corn and extrudes its starch into foam material. Green Cell Foam is compostable and biodegradable making it an eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene packaging.

President and CEO Tim Colonnese confirmed that Green Cell Foam is “ASTM D264 certified, readily compostable and the material has been tested for biodegradability in soil and in water, meaning if you have moisture it microbes.”

Colonnese started KTM Industries in 1997 after a group of Michigan State University professors showed him the unique starch foam technology. “I thought, we can definitely do something with this.” And he did, but the early years were tough. “It took five years to develop the technology to function properly. Distributors were skeptical. I was new so there was credibility issues.” Even with early wins like Toyota and Sony, the company didn’t get enough traction and continued to struggle. 

Things changed when Colonnese adapted a DIY approach and began working directly with distributors and their end users to best serve their unique needs.

Of course with the success came the competition. “A lot of our strategies and trade names are being adopted by our competition." His pragmatic approach is to leverage the company’s longevity and reputation.

Shipping Coolers

“Part of Jenny Craig’s revitalization strategy was to get foods to customer directly and they told us, ‘our food is clean so we’d like to have our packaging clean,’ ” confirmed Colonnese. In early 2019, Jenny Craig visited the Michigan headquarters to meet the team and better understand the process. Now the Green Cell Foam insulation allows for temperature control while offering protection. Another unexpected bonus to using the foam is that panels can be disposed of in the sink and it dissolves down the drain.

Before the new packaging, customers received food in two-week shipments in large expanded polystyrene containers. Lindsay Ostenson, brand and products manager for Jenny Craig, said in a statement, “With the rollout of the new packaging, we added the option for members to select one-week shipments, understanding many individuals may not have the space to accommodate two weeks of food in their freezer. The new one-week delivery option reduces the amount of storage needed and waste produced with each order. The one-week meal delivery packaging is 30% smaller with the use of KTM Industries’ Green Cell Foam insulation that is 100% compostable and water soluble.”

Moisture-Resistant Barrier

After a snafu involving a client, the team developed Green Cell Plus. The “Plus” is the 1 mil polyethylene film barrier that envelops the Green Cell Foam and acts as a barrier against moisture and humidity. Colonnese is quick to point out that the plastic film covering the panels is recyclable in most areas. “We’ve been trying to find a compostable film but cost and lack of water barrier properties are a challenge. Not to mention it has to work on automated equipment.”

Wooden Box Shipping Systems

Green Cell Foam also can be used to project fragile and expensive cargo. It’s something that those in the wine sector can appreciate. Many wineries use boxes made of wood to ship bottles — usually up to a dozen. When the wine box is put into the shipping box, it needs to be protected. One customer, Harlan Estate, ships wine that retails for an average of $750. The company didn’t want the beautifully branded, hand-carved wood boxes encased in either polyethylene or polyurethane foam. Colonnese gave his team of packaging engineers and designers the task of creating a well-designed, custom shipping box with exceptional shock-absorbing ability.

The team considered the type of wood, gain direction, cradle design and type of bottle plus overall weight before coming up with a packaging solution that complements the client’s beautifully designed box. The result is a stunning 12-bottle shipping system. The 50 lb. boxes were then put through a parcel delivery system and subject to 27 drop tests and passed.

There are limits to what can be done. When a client asked for a cooler that does 96 hours, Colonnese passed. “To go beyond 72 hours with a cold chain application is cost prohibitive. We don’t like to waste our customers’ time or money. We take pride in providing unique solutions for our customers' products through our value-added designing and testing services. This approach helps to build relationships, which are as sustainable as our material is for the environment."