The Truth About Corn Plastic

Corn plastic sounds great, but recycling it is difficult, and incorrect handling may foul systems. In The Oregonian, I found an article on “New Plastic, Second Thoughts”. Its all about Corn Plastic and the problems it has caused with recycling.

“PLA, or corn plastic, is made with Midwestern corn, not Middle East oil. Its production releases fewer toxic substances than making petroleum plastic and uses less energy, spewing an estimated two-thirds less greenhouse gas. And corn plastic can be composted, incinerated or recycled, its manufacturer says, offering “the most alternatives” of any plastic to landfilling.

Even so, Oregon’s recycling pros are awfully down on it.

Why? Corn PLA, made mainly by Minnesota-based Natureworks, composts only in high-temperature commercial composting systems, not backyards. It’s difficult to distinguish from regular plastics in the recycling mix. And a small amount can foul recycling of conventional plastic, one of the biggest-payoff items for recyclers nationwide.”

Disadvantages:

  1. Recycling advocates say PLA water bottles sold at retail are most likely to contaminate recyclables.
  2. Like conventional plastic, it doesn’t break down quickly on land or in the ocean.
  3. It’s not likely to break down in a landfill. If it does, it could save space but produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  4. Works at commercial-grade composting plants but fails to break down in a backyard compost pile.

Advantages:

  1. A 2006 NatureWorks-commissioned study for the German government showed recycling, not composting, is the greenest way to deal with PLA. But for everything but water pollution, the study indicated PLA retains environmental advantages over conventional plastics even if the PLA isn’t recycled.
  2. It’s made from plants that can be grown in 100 days. It comes from renewable resources.
  3. PLA’s least-controversial application is in cafeterias, convention centers and sports venues, where food-contaminated plastic cups, dishes and utensils are tossed in the garbage. Food-service operations can use corn PLA and other bioplastics, shipping their garbage to commercial-scale composters instead of trashing it.
  4. Produces no toxic compounds when burned, unlike many plastics.

For the complete article, click here.

What are your thoughts on Corn Plastic/PLA?

Leave a Reply