Corn Plastic Not So Green?

Plastics made from corn (PLAs) are advertised as “biodegradable.” And they are. IF your back-yard composting bin is capable of reaching 140 degrees for a stretch of 10 days or more. And that only happens at industrial composters specifically set up for this kind of thing. In the average home composting setup, corn plastics remain unchanged after six months, leading to accusations of false advertising on the part of firms like Wal-Mart, which pushes corn plastics to consumers as part of its new push to green-wash their image.

Smithsonian: So, yes, as PLA advocates say, corn plastic is “biodegradable.” But in reality very few consumers have access to the sort of composting facilities that can make that happen. NatureWorks has identified 113 such facilities nationwide—some handle industrial food-processing waste or yard trimmings, others are college or prison operations—but only about a quarter of them accept residential foodscraps collected by municipalities.

I’m in the middle of reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, so my head has been swimming with corn-y thoughts lately. More later.

via Boing-Boing

Music: Bill Frisell :: Anywhere Road

5 Replies to “Corn Plastic Not So Green?”

  1. Hello Scot:

    If interested Organically Speaking a Seattle base website has released a podcast (audio conversation) with Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

    We our introducing a new audio comment system today, you can now leave an audio comment on any of our posts. You will find an “Insert Audio Comment” link at the bottom of the usual “Add Comment” space. All you need is a microphone.

    Try it out and let Michael and John know what you think about the conversation!

    All the best,

    Holistic Conversations for a Sustainable World Who Share Your Passion for:

    * high quality organic food
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  2. The fact that Walmart is using the corn plastics seems so great but the real question is:
    Do you think the customers are actually composting those containers? If they do not go to the commercial compost facility (where their are quite few) then they end up in the landfill where it cannot break down as it will be mumified like all other trash. Those compostable corn products must be composted to make them renewable. Landfill is not an option so I feel that Walmart now gets to look green but where is the information here folks? The customers need to know what to do for the product to be effective at all!
    You do the math!

  3. Mary –

    The corn starch bags don’t break down *at all* in a landfill? Surely they’re still better than plastic, even in landfills (I don’t have data on this, but thought you or someone here might).

  4. While the issue of how compostable PLA’s are, I think that the notion of how green they are is more in their production that disposal. I challenge someone to examine the carbon footprint of a corn plastic composed of US corn, manufactured in the US and sold to North American customers. Compare that to a more traditional travel mug composed of fossil-fuel derived plastics that start their trek in the middle east or Canada, then over to China where they may combine it with stainless steel originating in the US or China, manufactured there or India and then shipped back to North America. While corn plastic may still have flaws, picking it a part is forgetting the improvement that it represents over the status quo.

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