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Petaluma company envisions a world without plastic

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As restaurant chains and cities around the country ban plastic straws and move to more eco-friendly food service products, one Petaluma company sees both a business opportunity and an environmental opportunity.

From a quiet office near the Petaluma River, World Centric has become one of the leading providers of completely compostable plates, cups, takeout containers, straws and other products.

“Compostable awareness really started taking off and has just hit the accelerator pedal,” said Mark Marinozzi, vice president of marketing for World Centric. “The fact is, you don’t need to pump a barrel of oil to make a plastic utensil or a hot cup.”

Plastic straws have become the latest taboo product after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in it’s nose went viral. Seattle became the first major city to ban plastic straws last month, and San Francisco recently followed suit. Chains such as Starbucks have vowed to phase out plastic straws.

All of this means new markets for World Centric’s Ingeo straws, made from a biodegradable plastic derived from plants such as sugarcane. These will fully breakdown in soil, unlike petroleum-based plastic straws, 200 million of which are added to landfills in the U.S. each day, according to Marinozzi.

“It’s one of the most wasteful products that we use,” he said. “They sit in landfills, get in our waterways and end up in the ocean.”

While more demand for compostables is good for business, World Centric isn’t just concerned with the bottom line, Marinozzi said. The company was actually founded as a nonprofit in 2004 and continues to give at least 25 percent of its profits to social and environmental causes.

World Centric founder Aseem Das, a Silicon Valley software engineer, noticed the waste that tech companies were producing, and wanted to provide an alternative. After starting in Palo Alto, Das relocated the company to Petaluma in 2010, having become enamored with the city after a visit here.

World Centric maintains clients in Silicon Valley, including Tesla, Google, Facebook and Apple. The company does not release sales numbers or number of employees, Marinozzi said.

The Petaluma office serves as the company’s administrative headquarters, while the plants that provide the raw materials for World Centric products are grown around the U.S. Most of the production is done in Asia, and Marinozzi said the company maintains a zero carbon footprint by offsetting the pollution created in shipping and manufacturing.

Marinozzi applauded efforts to reduce plastic in the waste stream, but he said Starbucks missed an opportunity by replacing plastic straws with plastic drinking lids.

“Why didn’t they make (their lid) out of plant-based plastic?” he said. “Sure a turtle might not get it stuck in its nose, but it’s still going to sit in a landfill.”

Consumers can find World Centric products nationwide in stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts and Target. As far as activism, the company uses its profits to support causes worldwide including providing clean drinking water to northern Uganda, building health clinics in Burma, educating women in Nicaragua, and helping the homeless in Santa Cruz.

“Our company keeps expanding, and with that growth, our mission hasn’t changed,” Marinozzi said. “We continue to be driven by an effort to sell products that create a better world. ... We have to be world-centric in everything we do.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)