The 8 million visitors and 15 thousand journalists at this year's Olympics deserve a gold medal for their contribution to environmental protection. 400kg of waste a minute - over 600 tonnes a day - is created; by using bio-degradable plastic knives and forks, produced and distributed by US-based Biocorp Inc., to devour their favourite Aussie dishes, spectators and reporters have helped to reduce the proportion of inorganic waste.

The Mater-Bi range of cutlery is developed by Italian-based Novamont using proprietary bio-degradable starch-based bio-polymers from global supplier National Starch & Chemical, an ICI-owned company. Knives, forks and spoons can be composted after use - an environmentally friendly alternative to landfill and incineration. The thermoplastic compound used to manufacture the range is made up of one of National Starch's speciality starches - a renewable, economic and safe, natural crop. It takes around 16 weeks for the cutlery to bio-degrade in composting conditions - and just 15 days in anaerobic conditions.

The result of a strong collaboration bringing together National Starch's unique expertise in natural polymer chemistry and Novamont's experience in material science and technology, the cutlery has made a significant contribution to the target of 80% organic waste from the Olympics. "Carbohydrates are amongst the world's most plentiful organic resources and starch is a recognisable ingredient found in a huge range of food and non-food products," says Jim Zallie, vice president of National Starch's Asia- Pacific starch division. "Now we're using starch to make the things we eat with as well as the things we eat. We're using our technology to help protect the environment and this is consistent with the mission of the company."

With all the attributes of traditional plastic cutlery including good rigidity and dimensional stability, the Mater-Bi cutlery has already been used in McDonalds restaurants in Austria and Sweden for three years. It simplifies waste management, reducing related costs, is hygienic to use and can be recycled with other organic waste.

Starch typically makes up between 40-85% of a thermo-plastic compound. "These new classes of bio-polymer are opening up the opportunity to provide bio-degradable materials where demand exists or legislation insists. Starch-based bio-polymers will not replace all of today's plastics," comments Zallie, "But exciting new developments do present an interesting alternative where bio-degradability is required."

For more information about speciality starches please contact National Starch & Chemical, Prestbury Court, Greencourts Business Park, 333 Styal Road, Manchester M22 5LW, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 161 435 3200. Fax: +44 (0) 161 435 3300.

For more information about the Mater-Bi range of bio-degradable products please contact Novamont SpA, Via Fauser 8, 28100 Novara, Italy. Tel: 00 39 0321 605. Fax: 00 39 0321 699 600.