(Nov. 21) ATLANTA — When Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., recently announced its intention to phase out its petroleum-based plastic packaging and switch to corn, you knew there would be ripple effects.

Fresh Summit 2005 was abuzz with news of companies boosting lineups of recyclable plastic clamshells, punnets and other see-through fresh produce containers.

It was no surprise, then, that the biggest news came from the giant of the corn-based packaging industry, NatureWorks LLC, Minneapo-lis.

Sometime in 2006, half of all plastic containers holding fresh-cut product from Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc. will be housed in NatureWorks PLA corn-based containers, Mary Rosenthal, NatureWorks’ global communications leader, said at the annual Produce Marketing Association convention.

Del Monte began using PLA packaging for its fresh-cut Gold pineapples, melons and fruit and vegetable medleys in 2004. Wild Oats Market, Boulder, Colo., was the first retailer to request that all of its fresh-cut product from the grower-shipper be packed in NatureWorks packaging.

Sabert Corp., Sayreville, N.J., a leading supplier of food packaging, is producing the PLA containers for Del Monte, according to a NatureWorks news release.

In other NatureWorks news from Fresh Summit, the company announced that it has been awarded greenhouse-gas-neutral status, making it the first commercially available polymer to meet that high environmental standard.

That will give the company enormous competitive advantage with overseas customers who need to achieve compliance with Kyoto Protocol standards for reducing greenhouse emissions, the company said in a news release.

NatureWorks will achieve greenhouse-gas-neutral status through the purchase of renewable energy certificates, which offset all of the emissions from the energy used to make NatureWorks PLA products.

That will result in an expected 68% reduction in fossil fuel use, compared with traditional plastics, according to the release.

Another company offering planet-friendly packaging is Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, which unveiled a product from Earthcycle Packaging Ltd., Vancouver, at Fresh Summit.

Palm fiber, a renewable resource intended to end up in a compost pile or recycling bin, is used to make the packaging.