Marton is earmarked as the location for New Zealand's first commercial bioplastics facility, which is expected to create up to 200 new jobs in the area.
With a local site identified, subject to a change to the District Plan zone and necessary consents under the Resource Management Act, work on the pilot facility is expected to be underway by late 2021.
Developed by NZ Bio Forestry Ltd and it's Taiwan-based research and technology partners, the facility would turn under-utilised forestry resources into bioplastic. This raw material can then be used by other companies to create biodegradable, compostable and renewable alternatives to petroleum-based plastic products such as containers, packaging and food service items.
Wayne Mulligan, CEO of NZ Bio Forestry, said that there's growing global consumer demand for alternatives to petroleum-based plastics and given the availability of natural resources, New Zealand is well-placed to respond.
"It's estimated that there are millions of tonnes of forest residue in New Zealand that are currently under-utilised.
"By piloting commercial production of bioplastics using those under-utilised resources, we are taking a major step forward in realising our aspirations for the forestry sector and the country to play a leadership role globally in the development of a renewable circular bio-economy," Mulligan said.
The company envisages the end-products will initially be coffee cups and food packaging.
"We're currently working with Muffin Break, as well as other international companies with a significant interest in new bioplastic end-products," Mulligan said.
Andy Watson, Council Mayor, Rangitikei District Council said the development of the new initiative is the result of strong collaboration across Councils in the Central North Island.
"Palmerston North City Council has played a key role, given the strategic link between this project and the planned Regional Rail Hub and Regional Freight Ring Road in Palmerston North, which were announced last year," Watson said.
Ahead of approval of changes to the District Plan and securing consents, the company is focused on getting timber processing facilities up and running, which the pilot facility will depend on.
Critical to the success of the initiative will be a continual flow of logs for timber processing and the use of residual waste for producing bioplastics and NZ Bio Forestry is now engaging with potential partners across the forestry sector to build the supply pipeline.
The Government has committed $380,000 of funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for research on whether Radiata Pine can be used to develop a bio-degradable alternative to single-use plastics, bringing the development of the pilot plant a step closer.
With a few hoops yet to jump through, development of the Marton-based bioplastics facility is expected to bring new growth to the Manawatu/Wanganui region, and subject to full production being reached, the company intends to extend to other regions.