This plastics maker has big companies thirsting for its technology

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Anyone who’s seen the classic 1967 film “The Graduate” starring Dustin Hoffman knows that plastics are not normally a sexy business.

But a little-known plastics company set to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday has Wall Street salivating — thanks to technology being eyed by major companies like PepsiCo and Bacardi because it promises to turn plastic into dust.

Danimer Scientific on Oct. 5 said it planned to merge with blank-check company Live Oak Acquisition and take over its NYSE listing before the end of the year. In anticipation of that happening, investors have sent Live Oak’s stock up a massive 79 percent.

Their excitement centers on Danimer’s efforts to help large companies make throwaway plastic items — straws, food containers, snack bags — more environmentally friendly. Danimer makes plastic pellets using canola oil instead of petrochemicals that promises to quickly decompose when met with bacteria from, say, a landfill or lake.

Liquor company Bacardi on Oct. 23 said it teamed up with Danimer to make its spirits bottles out of biodegradable material by 2023 — a conversion that would eliminate the 3,000 tons of plastic its 80 million bottles produce annually.

Danimer has also told potential investors its partnership with disposable cup and straw maker WinCup has resulted in a two-year contract worth $27 million for the Phade line of disposable straws to be sold at Walmart.

“I have a bunch of the straws,” one investor source told The Post. “You can’t tell the difference between them and regular plastic straws.”

Dunkin’ Brands is also test marketing the straws, which are blue, now in its restaurants, and Starbucks may soon do the same, sources said. Danimer is also working on a deal to develop plastic bottles for Nestlé’s Pure Life water brand.

But perhaps the biggest potential deal involves food and beverage giant Pepsi. If all works out as planned, sources said, Pepsi plans to convert all of its snack brands, including Doritos, Fritos and Lay’s potato chips, to Danimer Plastics bags.

The soda maker, which declined to comment, has vowed to make 100 percent of its packaging recoverable or recyclable by 2025.

The risk is that all of these promising partnerships also turn to dust at a time when investors are factoring some $200 million in future contracts into the stock’s valuation, which has doubled in recent weeks to $1.9 billion.

Danimer is projecting just $51 million in 2020 revenue and is expected to break even this year.

“There is no agreement that they are going to give us 100 percent of their snack bag business,” Danimer CEO Stephen Croskrey admitted before adding:  “I would certainly hope that we would be making all their snack bags.”

“We’ve been working with them for 11 years on this project,” and they don’t appear to be working with any other bioplastics company,” Croskrey said.

And the Pepsi partnership is serious enough that the soda maker has acquired a 6 percent stake in Danimer, according to the investor presentation. One of Danimer’s eight directors will be PepsiCo Foods North America Senior Vice President and Controller Christy Basco, according to regulatory filings.

Danimer has told investors it can eliminate 500 billion pounds of plastic waste out of the 800 billion pounds produced annually.

Danimer-made plastics “need an incredible amount of bacteria to decompose,” so the packaging can be shelf stable for years, the investor source said. “They showed us a Tide bottle they made that has been sitting on the shelf for 10 years.”

Place Danimer packaging, though, in a landfill, or bury it outside and it will decompose in weeks without leaving microplastics behind.

“If this decomposes on your shelf, you have much bigger problems,” this person added.
Daimer plans to use the funds from the merger to expand an existing plant and to build a new Kentucky plant. No company has made these kinds of bioplastics on a mass scale, sources said.

In addition to Pepsi, other current Danimer investors include David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital, whose 2019 investment is now on track for a sixfold return, sources said.
As Danimer grows, it could face pushback from the recycling industry because its bottles melt in heat, which makes them non-recyclable.

Danimer supporters argue that roughly 75 percent of plastic bottles now end up in bacteria-filled landfills, and that those that go to recycling centers will still not leave an environmental footprint since they will melt and disintegrate.

Still, the bottles threaten to muck up recycling efforts if not disposed of properly, critics said.

“There is no silver bullet,” a Danimer supporter countered.

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