Friday, September 4, 2009

PLA-Corn Based Palstics

I'm on the fence about corn-based plastics. When I first heard of them I thought "Finally, a plastic that is safe to use." But, after further research, there are problems with PLA and some convincing arguments for and against it.

To me the biggest plus was that it was biodegradable and compostable. Here's the catch, it is not biodegradable in landfills because in that environment really nothing decomposes well. Plus, when it does decompose in an anaerobic environment such as a landfill, it produces methane. So, corn based trash bags or cups going into landfills is not really better for the landfill, it still takes up precious space. Additionally, these plastics are not compostable in home bins, only large industrial facilities. I agree that its better than nothing, but finding access to an industrial facility is not really possible for home consumers.

PLA will not emit toxic fumes or leech chemicals into food or soil. I think that's a plus and I don't really see a negative side to that.

PLA is produced using a renewable resource and PET is produced using petroleum. I think it is great that we are looking for alternatives to petroleum, but not all alternatives are better for the environment (palm oil anyone?) I think it is important to look for ecologically sound alternatives to petroleum, but I think it is more important for us to start looking for ways to reduce our waste, not just waste renewable products. Stop and take an inventory of your day. How many times in one day do we use something once and throw it away: frozen dinners, fast food, morning coffee stop, and so many others. Waste is waste.

I am truly excited about the possibilities of these plastics, but I also think that we need to stop and take a look at how we use plastic and how we waste it. There are plenty of products that should be stored in plastic (a glass shampoo bottle just seems like an emergency room visit waiting to happen) and this is a great alternative. However, we need to move towards recycling and composting all of those products containers when we are finished. Its so easy to just dump it in the trash and not have a second thought, but a renewable plastic does not make it any less wasteful.

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