AMERICAN CANYON -- Consumers often have limited options for recycling the petroleum-based foam that cushions and insulates wine bottles during shipment, but a Napa Valley wine packaging company thinks it has found a way to make such recycling as easy as turning on a water spigot or stirring a compost pile.

[caption id="attachment_80101" align="alignleft" width="385"] Green Cell Foam can be die-cut to fit bottle shapes and sizes. (image credit: Vinpak)[/caption]

Vinpak (707-255-2511, recently said it inked an exclusive deal with a Michigan-based maker of a proprietary packing foam made totally from cornstarch that doesn't come from genetically modified crops. Vinpack worked with KTM Industries to develop die-cut slabs of its Green Cell Foam to accommodate wine bottles as well as create corner pieces to protect decorative wooden boxes for bottled wine. Even the glue used in the shipper is made from cornstarch.

"The advantage over Syrofoam is that this absorbs moisture, which can ruin labels," said Lynne Weaver, Vinpak's new sales and marketing manager, referring to Dow Chemical's brand of expanded polystyrene foam that has become synonymous with insulating rigid-foam packaging. That moisture largely can come from condensation on chiller packs included with a shipment to keep the wine near cellar temperature, she noted.

While it can absorb a lot of water, including being in 95 percent humidity for two days, Green Cell Foam is designed to dissolve after soaked in a tub or sink. The starchy water can be poured on plants as food. The material passed ASTM D6400 biodegradability protocols -- breaks down in 60 days or less in compost.

The common option for consumers to recycle petroleum-based foam "peanuts" and pieces received in shipments is to take it to one of a number of local courier retail shipping centers that accept it, according to Napa Valley Waste and Recycling Services and San Francisco-based commercial recycler and composter Recology.

The cost of the material is more than formed wood pulp packaging a number of wine producers have moved to or tried in the past several years to reduce waste and generally 30 percent higher than Styrofoam packaging, according to Ms. Weaver. Shipping material costs often are less than $2 per box, but wooden cases with custom fire-branding can cost $30 each, she said.

Cornstarch foam has been used in packaging in the U.S. since 2002. KTM has been supplying the material for use in shipping pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements and specialty foods by common carriers for more than five years. The foam is said to have comparable thermal insulation properties and bounce back when hit, rather than breaking as conventional rigid foams can.

Green Cell Foam received BPI certification as a green material. Use of the material is said to reduce carbon-related emissions by 80 percent and energy consumption by 70 percent.

Started in 2003 by Keith and La Rue Kaarup, Vinpak does specialty wine packaging such as tissue-wrapping, wax application and wooden boxes from Valley Wine's warehouse at 644 Hanna Dr. in American Canyon. In the past five years, the company developed a separate company, Vinstaff, to provide wineries with a pool of trained direct-to-consumer packaging temporary staffing. The company has a labor pool of about 150 and serves around as many wine producers each year.