Biodegradable plastics got a bad name when consumers realized that the materials often required sunlight to disappear. Now, there's a plastic that will degrade in landfills. Produced by London-based Imperial Chemical Industries, the Biopol resin is a natural polymer made by bacteria that digest sugar. It is so similar to petroleum-based polymers that it can be used in existing packaging production equipment with only minor modifications. But when the resin encounters common bacteria found in water and soils, it decomposes, leaving carbon dioxide, water, and a small amount of biological material.

These qualities carry a hefty price: Andrew T. Berlin, president of Chicago's Berlin Packaging Corp., the sole U.S. distributor of rigid packaging made using Biopol, says the wholesale cost of a shampoo bottle will be as much as 43 , far more than a 7 conventional plastic one. But Berlin expects the cost to drop up to 40% in the next 18 months. A line of salon shampoos marketed by Brocato International of Baton Rouge, La., will be the first commercial application in the U.S.

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