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As today’s market grows ever-greener, new
technologies are emerging in an effort to meet the needs of industries seeking
more environmentally friendly alternatives for packaging. Enter biodegradable
plastics created with the help of poly lactic acid (PLA).
What are poly
lactic acid plastics?
PLA plastics are clear or
white bioplastics made from renewable sources, such as corn, sugar and beets.
Sometimes referred to as “corn plastic”, this environmentally friendly
packaging solution looks and feels like petrochemical based plastics, but is created
entirely from plants which, by their nature, absorb carbon dioxide so reduce
greenhouse gases. In addition,
these bio-plastics break down into harmless elements shortly after their useful
life instead of perpetuating for years like traditional plastic.
How are PLA
Harvested corn is soaked
and ground so that the endosperm can be separated from the corn gluten and
Enzymes are added to the
starches in the endosperm, converting them into the sugar, dextrose.
Lactobacilli bacteria is
added to ferment those sugars into lactic acid, similar to the production of
beer or naturally fermented pickles
This fermentation produces
lactide molecules, which bond into long chains – polymers
The result of the process
is pellets of poly lactic acid plastic, which can be processed into many
Poly lactic acid
is extremely versatile
It can be processed into a
wide range of materials using casts, injection molding, extrusion, film and
sheet casting, and spinning.
PLA makes an excellent
compostable packaging material in the form of bags, cups, bottles and jars,
food packaging, disposable tableware, and the like, and is FDA approved and
suitable for food contact.
Because it degrades into
lactic acid, which occurs naturally in the human body, it is can even be used
in medical implants.
Benefits of poly
lactic acid breakdown
While typical petroleum
based plastics can take thousands of years to breakdown, plant-based PLA
plastics can be broken down in a suitable composting facility within 45 to 90
PLA plastic offers a
stable shelf life, without degrading or disintegrating, but remains
biodegradable, breaking down into carbon dioxide and water at temperatures
greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit and when exposed to relative humidity of 90
percent or more for approximately 60 to 90 days.
No toxic fumes are emitted
when PLA plastics are incinerated.
petroleum-based plastics in the form of bags, food containers, and more
continue to be banned worldwide due to the true costs they bring, both
environmentally and economically, bio-based plastics offer a viable,