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NJ DEKE AIMS TO SOLVE PLASTIC-BAG PROBLEM

The song says it: we all want to change the world. Many people fall short of fulfilling their world-altering dreams, yet one man who may be nearing the threshold is Gene Benfatti.


A founder of the DKE chapter at Glassboro State in 1980 (now Rowan University), a few years ago Gene started PlasTechFree, a business that could help solve one of today’s top environmental problems—the vast glut of petroleum-based plastics that take years to break down, and when they do, end up as microplastics in our water sources, the air we breathe, even arriving in our lungs and bloodstreams.


While every small business startup must clear all sorts of hurdles, the potential for success is strong in Gene’s chosen niche as it has seen dramatic change in recent years. Twelve states and over 500 municipalities in the U.S. have bans or restrictions on single-use plastic bags made from petroleum-based materials. Canada banned single-use plastic bags in 2022.


Aiming to reduce society’s dependency on those non-degradable plastic bags, Gene’s company makes several products, all home compostable and biodegradable, certified by independent labs to fully break down within months, not years, and leave only rich nutrients behind without any micro or nano plastics or PFAS in the residue. The products include single-use bags, reusable antimicrobial bags, kitchen compost bin bags, pet waste bags, and diaper waste disposal bags. It also produces bagasse, clamshell containers, cutlery, and straws – all on target lists of plastic reduction programs.


Gene’s entry into the alternatives to plastics biz is recent, but while working in advertising, marketing, and trade show industry posts across a few decades, Gene found a few spare evening and weekend hours for his true passion: inventing things that solve “everyday life” problems. Those part-time efforts netted Gene five U.S. patents – and bragging rights for a few products seen on national chain store shelves.


Gene’s first successful invention was a plush bag dispenser for disposing of soiled diapers, dreamed up when necessity arose in his own living room. Back when his son was in diapers, Gene was changing him and realized he had no disposal bags close at hand. At a dollar store later that day, he bought a stuffed teddy bear, needle and thread, and Velcro. He cut off the bear’s head, sewed up the bottom, leaving a small opening, then cut a flap in the back to insert a roll of bags secured with a Velcro loop. Voila; he created the first plush dispenser for bags to dispose of soiled diapers. His dispenser sold nationwide for five years and was later offered with biodegradable and compostable bags. Beginning this May, it will be available on PlasTechFree.com.


Gene’s most promising patent yet is the plant-based bioplastic formula that is the basis for several products of PlasTechFree. He launched the company in 2021 with partner Mark Nathan, a toy industry entrepreneur he met in a New Jersey inventors club. After operating as an LLC initially, the company incorporated in 2023.


The company has a couple of big box stores as customers, including one that sells their compostable dog waste pickup bags. Another company they recently began talks with is a leading zipper maker. “They add zippers to clothing bags and other specialty bags, and their customers wanted plant-based plastic bags for shirts,” Gene explained. So, in March, they were developing quotes to supply 7 million bags.


“That’s a small number in the plastic bag world, but the inquiry speaks volumes about where the alternative plastic sector is headed,” Gene says. “The world’s players are beginning to say: ‘we have to get away from plastics.’”



Gene Benfatti (center) pictured during visit with Alpha Mu brothers in 2012, helping carry on a tradition dating to 1982, when Gene and his brothers rolled a keg 50 miles from Glassboro to Atlantic City. Visiting Rowan also gave Gene one of his greatest thrills as a Deke. “My first visit to the Rowan Dekes, I arrived during a Thanksgiving social event. When I introduced myself, they knew my name instantly; many of them had to memorize my name, as a founder. I was celebrated like a hero; a founder had come home!”

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