ARLINGTON — A small company here is changing the way beverage cups are made.
MicroGreen Polymers is producing an innovative plastic cup that Costco is premiering this month in a San Francisco Bay area test market.
What makes these cups better than the average red plastic party cups that people tend to throw in the trash is that InCycle is made from recycled water bottles through a less costly process that results in a lighter cup its makers say keeps beer colder longer, doesn’t crack and can be thrown into the recycling bin.
MicroGreen employs more than 50 people in business park near Highway 9. The inspiration for the InCycle cup was a desire to reduce the amount of plastic in garbage dumps, said Tom Malone, president and chief executive officer of MicroGreen.
“The idea is that these cups never go to the landfill,” Malone said. “Plastic is easy to clean and offers lots of stored energy. It’s irresponsible to waste it. We can use it again and again.”
The InCycle cups provide a way for consumers to “do the right thing,” Malone said. “And our product doesn’t cost shoppers any more than the red cups.”
Sheets of recycled plastic are saturated with food-grade carbon dioxide and then heated. The heat produces microscopic bubbles — about 10 bubbles per the width of a human hair — that then change the structure of the plastic. A 1 liter-size water bottle provides enough plastic to make seven of the InCycle cups.
On its assembly line in its 40,000-square-foot warehouse, MicroGreen can produce 1,500 cups a minute that then can be printed, 320 a minute, on a nine-color press. The cups headed to San Francisco are printed with an image of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The company provides what it considers to be living-wage jobs, Malone said.
That’s what makes people at City Hall happy, Arlington spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said.
“We are so pleased that MicroGreen Polymers is doing well,” Banfield said. “They just keep growing.”
Arlington is home to the company for a reason, Malone said.
“This is a great community. Arlington has a talented workforce with a wonderful work ethic,” Malone said. “We’re close enough to Seattle, but we’re like a lot of tech companies that want to move out of the expensive city.”
Matt Gepner, 21, the company’s production lead, got a job at MicroGreen right after graduating from Arlington High School in 2009.
“This is a great job. I live five minutes away,” Gepner said. “We’re an ecologically friendly company, our CEO visits us on the production floor, we’re family-oriented and we’re doing something good.”
Gepner said he started out cutting sheets of plastic by hand and that he has enjoyed watching the company grow and become automated.
“I do my best because I want to see this company succeed just as much as anybody here,” Gepner said.
Along with the cups, MicroGreen is producing containers for frozen and microwavable foods and lightweight plastic paperlike stock for signs and other printed materials. A hot beverage cup is in the works, which could change the way coffee retailers serve lattes, Malone said.
Krishna Nadella, who helped found MicroGreen about 10 years ago, is the company’s chief technology officer. Nadella moved from India to earn his doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington, where his research specialty was in microcellular plastics. Nadella has developed 20 patentable technologies through his work in this field.
His mentor, UW professor Vipin Kumar, continues to visit Nadella’s company as an adviser. In addition, some of Kumar’s students have had internships at MicroGreen.
Nadella said he comes from a family of entrepreneurs.
“I came here to learn a new technology and start a company,” Nadella said. “In India, people expect that you will work for your family. In the U.S., no one asks me my father’s name. With the freedom we have here, we intend to build this company as big as it can get.”
It could be really big, Malone said.
“I am incredibly lucky to work with Krishna and the other brilliant people on our team,” Malone said. “All of us have grown to love the technology we use. It feels like we’re on a mission to improve the world. That’s the beauty of green technology.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.