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Published: Wednesday 07 August, 2013

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There are some wonderful things about the new corn resin plastic, and there are some not so wonderful things. Here is a quick list of the highlights of this lens:

Corn resin plastic is made from 100% corn, instead of petroleum, like traditional PET plastic.

There is a quiet revolution occurring in the plastics industry. It turns out that reusable mugs, water bottles, sandwich baggies, and other items traditionally made from PET plastic can now be made from 100% corn instead of plastic. Yes, I said corn. there is now readily available a plastic alternative made from corn!

Can you imagine the implications? Not only can products now be made from a safer, biodegra cheap summer shoes dable material PET plastic is made from petroleum, but we can also support our farmers, reduce our dependency on foreign oil, possible lower the cost of petroleum products by reducing demand surging worldwide demand is perceived to be one of the major factors affecting rising oil prices, particularly the growing demand in China, and drastically reduce the amount of nonbiodegradable plastic waste doomed to exist for eons in landfills.

There are actually lots of products made from oil petroleum that you use in your everyday life. Plastic is one example, polyester is another. So if we can make mugs from corn, imagine what else could be produced from corn. Plastic dinnerware, reusable Tupperware, game pieces and toys worried about toxic toys these days? Wouldnt corn be a great alternative?, takeout food containers, plastic bags, toothbrushes, razors, storage units. the list goes on and on.

So how does this corn plastic work? First, after corn is milled, dextrose is extracted from the starch. The starch is then turned into lactic acid a byproduct of fermentation and, in animals, respiration using large fermenters. The lactic acid is then converted to lactide, and the lactide is linked into long chains or polymers, known as polylactic acid PLA.

Though it cannot replace polyehtylene terephalate PET in every application because of lower melting point, there are still many possible applications. One major benefit of PLA is that it is compostable and heres the catch under commercial composting conditions, which means a co cheap summer shoes mposting facility that can maintain an internal composting temperature of 140 degrees for ten days straight so you would not want to throw PLA into your backyard compost. Unfortunately, in a landfill, though no one is certain, it is predicted that PLA might last almost as long as PET. Currently there are about 118 commercial composting facilities around the country. This is definitely a number that needs to be expanded.

We will also need to pay close attention to the way we dispose of PLA containers as they become more popular. PLA and PET are somewhat like oil and water: they do not mix when melted. Therefore, PLA is actually a contaminant in the PET recycling process. In the small amounts that are intermingled in recycling now, it is not an issue. But as PLA becomes more predominant, consumers will have to start paying close attention to what kind of plastic they are disposing of and how they are disposing of it.

On the plus side, some of the major benefits of PLA include using 65 percent less energy to produce and generating 68 percent fewer greenhouse gases during production. PLA also contains no toxins and comes from a renewable resource. Though some people have argued that we should not be using a major food source to produce plastic when so many people in our world go hungry, most of the corn used in the manufacture of corn is lowgrade, the kind used in animal feed, not for human consumption. There has, however, already been a slight rise in the global price of corn, which is a concern for poorer countries whose diets depend on imported corn and whose people cannot afford even slight increases. This is a concern that must be addressed.

Finally, there is a very serious issue that must be addressed, and it revolves around concerns with the business of corn agriculture in the US. The big problem is that the corn industry is an agribusiness: corn has become a commodity, and is grown on a massive scale by huge commercial farms with little regard for the environment. The industry grows primarily GM corn. Many people have expressed concern over genetically altering produce in irreversible ways, losing genetic biodiversity which puts the future of crop stability at risk,and the unforeseen health and environmental consequences that may arise down the road.

Additionally, corn is one of the most pesticide and fertilizerintensive crops, sending billions of pounds of toxins into our waterways, our rivers and lakes and ponds, wreaking havoc on those ecosystems and on the delicate balances that exist within. Fish, birds, even humans, are the victims of this chemical runoff. The oncerich soil of many agricultural regions is now barely able to support growth without heavy fertilizers. We know that crop diversification, which exists on many small, organic farms, is the natural way to keep soil and land healthy and productive. The millions of pounds of corn grown for PLA production are not organic, and this is a major problem.

NatureWorks LLC is the major producer of PLA plastics. They began production in 2001, when this corporation was formed as a joint effort between Cargill here in the US, and Teijin in Japan. Since their incorporation, they have made some steady improvements in terms of ecoresponsibility. NatureWorks now offsets 89% of its energy consumption through the purchase of wind power renewable energy certificates. That makes them the 19th largest carbon offsetter in the country. They have improved the energy efficiency of their PLA production each year, resulting in significant reductions in terms of pollution emitted and energy consumed during the entire life cycle, from cradle to polymer, of PLA plastics as compared to PET plastics. Contrary to what I prev cheap summer shoes iously thought, these numbers do take into consideration the growth cycle of corn and the energy consumed therein . The corn used to make the dextrose is a mixed stream of nonGMO and GMO corn grown in the area. During the manufacture of PLA, the multiplestage processing and high heat used to create the polymer removes all traces of genetic material. Unfortunately, such a disclaimer sounds as if they are shrugging off their responsibility toward environmental stewardship while trying to sound like they are doing something. One of the founders of Natureworks, Cargill, holds numerous GM patents, so it remains to be seen whether they will truly seek to source nonGM corn, or whether they will continue to push their own profitable agenda.

I have already had a number of people tell me they will not support PLA plastics until they are made from GMOfree and organicallygrown corn. The question remains: is NatureWorks just another profithungry corporate monstrosity, with no regard for the negative environmental impacts of the corn monoculture currently dominated agriculture now? Or will they be a leader in the movement toward a more sustainable and environmentallyresponsible economy, and require their corn to be grown at the very least GMOfree, and hopefully, also organically?

As I said in the beginning, I still believe that PLA plastics are a step in the right direction. They may not be the final answer to an environmental plastic crisis, but I believe this new industry will continue to improve. In an ideal world, we would not be consuming so much plastic, or none at all, but right now that is just not going to happen. A quick tour around the average American house will prove that plastics are everywhere. Right now we need to pressure NatureWorks into sourcing nonGMO and organic corn. If consumers demand this of PLA, then we can turn this young industry into a truly beneficial one.

The ability to refine petroleum which first began in 1859 was a major factor in the Industrial Revolution, and has played such a major role in the course of history and of our country. I am not trying to belittle the importance of petroleum. But the benefits now carry a heavy cost with them too: pollution, wars fought over control of major oil sources, and the destruction of vital ecosystems in the search for new sources of oil. The time has come for alternative sources of energy, plastics, and other traditionally petroleumbased products to replace petroleum whenever possible and no, it is not possible to replace petroleum entirely, of course. We are entering an age of concern in which profit margins will no longer necessarily be the overriding factor in resource choice. If we as consumers demand safer and lesstoxic materials in the products we purchase and use every day, then the supply will follow. cheap summer shoes