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WASHINGTON - Wild Oats Markets Inc. has become the first grocery store in the United States to roll out a new type of "green" packaging that looks like plastic but turns into compost after disposal.
Unofficially called the "Corntainer" in the natural food chain's 11 Pacific Northwest stores where it is being tested, the clear packaging is made from corn rather than petroleum.
Employees have been dishing up salads, cheese, desserts and other deli products in the containers for the last three weeks, and touting the product in the stores' marketing brochures.
Wild Oats is also giving consumers the option of returning the containers to its stores, and subsequent delivery to a recycling company in Oregon.
The containers will be composted and made into organic soil, which will then be sold at its stores.
While the environmental benefits play well with green consumers, this product is one of several at the forefront of an approach using renewable resources in industrial applications.
The product also brings together what may seem like unusual bedfellows: environmentalists and corporate entities behind the bio-plastic, like Cargill Inc. and Dow Chemical Co.
Advocates say that agricultural-based products like the new container reduce petroleum dependency, environmentally harmful emissions and landfill waste.
"The response has been fantastic," said Mark Cockcroft, regional marketing manager at Nature's, the Northwest unit of Wild Oats. By the fall, the company plans to roll out the container nationally to 77 stores.
Although the product costs 40 to 50 percent more than plastic packaging, Wild Oats is not passing the extra cost on to the customer. It expects the price will come down as the product becomes more widespread.