Kiwi-made biodegradable vine clips going global

PolyNatural® general manager for sales and marketing, Gareth Innes, with the biodegradable vine clip.

A Christchurch company is set to export their biodegradable vine clips for the first time, fulfilling demand from global winegrowers for more sustainable vineyard practices after a research partnership with government-owned research company Scion.

A number of New Zealand winemakers have successfully trialled the clips, including Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Central Otago and Marlborough. Central Otago Vineyard Manager Derek Beirnes describes them as the “perfect product.”

Biodegradable vine clips are supporting vineyards to operate more sustainably

“Each clip does what it needs to do, whilst being environmentally friendly,” said Beirnes.

PolyNatural® has begun taking commercial orders for its eco-friendly vine clips from South Australia and from vineyards across New Zealand. Made from biodegradable polymers and waste materials sourced from wood processing, the vine clips are designed to replace the traditional plastic clips used to hold nets over ripening grapes. About 30 million of these plastic clips are used by the New Zealand wine industry every year.

The export milestone follows extensive product development and vineyard trials in New Zealand and comes five years after the first prototype clip was created by Scion scientists in collaboration with PolyNatural®’s parent company EPL.

“Good things take time and we’ve spent several years collaborating with Scion by testing formulations, using different materials and doing a lot of field research to develop a product that we’re confident winegrowers are very satisfied with,” said Gareth Innes, general manager for sales and marketing at PolyNatural®.

“Scion’s research support and the feedback we received during trials has helped us to create a world-class product that is helping the global wine industry combat a major environmental issue.”

Vine clips and netting are essential to winegrowing operations for pest management and to prevent fruit loss, but after nets are removed the clips fall to the ground, contributing to a growing pile of non-degrading plastic littering vineyards that, over time, contributes to microplastic pollution.

With the viticulture industry keen to adopt more sustainable practices, Scion began developing a faster-degrading vine clip made of grape marc and bioplastic. Led by researchers Dawn Smith and Stephanie Weal, Scion trialled different prototypes in the field, testing numerous formulations before arriving at the right mechanical and physical properties.

In 2020, EPL took up the challenge of improving the clip even further and getting it ready for production at scale.

“The technology and materials that we’re using now are different to what they were five years ago, but we couldn’t have achieved what we have if it wasn’t for the work that Scion did in those early trial stages,” Innes said.

In 2020 EPL & Scion were recognised at the Sustainable Business Awards by winning the award for Outstanding Collaboration for the work on the predecessor to the PolyNatural® vine clip.

The vine clips are 100% biobased using renewable materials that have no petrochemicals or toxic additives and comes from waste generated from processing wood. That waste is then fermented using micro-organisms and shaped to create a durable clip that can fully degrade in the right soil conditions.

Lessons learned during the commercialisation process and further market research has sparked additional biodegradable products for the horticulture, viticulture and marine industries.

To support demand for riparian planting and land revegetation projects, PolyNatural® began trialling biodegradable plant protectors in 2021 to improve the survival rates of young plants from pests and the elements, which launched commercially earlier this year.

Scion business development manager Jeremy Warnes says the PolyNatural® and Scion partnership has been a real success story.

“Our scientists provided biopolymer expertise and research that has helped to kickstart these commercial products. But EPL and now their business unit PolyNatural® must be given enormous credit for developing the technology further and for getting the vine clips market ready.”

As well as targeting the Adelaide wine growing region, PolyNatural® is planning to export its vine clips to Canada and France, with support from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise.

“Everyone knows that they can’t recycle their way out of the environmental plastic problem,” said Innes.

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