Corn Plastic - PLA

Corn Plastic - PLA - Polylactide

Some great info on new corn-based, compostable plastics for packaging and products as well as fibers. This is 100% corn, created through fermentation and with fewer emissions and energy inputs:

This PLA stuff has already been used in consumer electronic housing in Japan, for bedding fiber in the US, as well as packaging for Biota bottled water. It seems to have potential for all kinds of uses.

Really awesome. It almost seems that a huge problem has been solved… or not. Now that those oil lords are gonna cry.

I have a question though. How does PLA disintegrate? How long can it last? What determines its life?

I sent an email to them, but I thought someone can answer this quicker.

It’s also great that walmart is taking the plunge. I think all bio-degradable products should carry a distintive logo like the “recycle tri-arrow” symbol. It will make consumers want to buy the product and pressure the manufacturers to use it.


Found this answer on the Ingeo site:



Can Nautureworks PLA be composted in a backyard composter? If so, how many days will it take to completely degrade?


PLA products are intended for industrial based composts which very carefully regulate temperature, moisture and turning. In industrial facilities we have seen complete degradation in as few as 47 days, which you may already been aware. PLA may very likely compost in home compost bins, but NatureWorks LLC cannot quarantee time results such as 47 days or 60 days etc., because the variation of each home compost is simply too great to be able to control or make statements regarding timelines. Home composts are often limited to the summer season as well, and this creates additional time constraints. We would like to be able to quote some figures for your request, however, we can only specify the commercial results at controlled industrial or commercial facilities.


I think it answers part of the question. It doesn’t specify a specific accelerator other than controlling the environment.

  • m out.

Thanks for that quote.

I guess what I want to know is if I want to use it for a certain purpose, how do I make sure that it doesn’t decompost before I am done using it?

Got a response from them!! That was quick.

Thank you for your interest in Ingeo ™ fibers, the world’s first man-made fiber produced from 100% annually renewable resources. Ingeo literally means ingredients from the earth. Ingeo fibers are produced through a fermentation process to convert natural plant sugars to new products.

Ingeo fibers have comparable performance and many times exceed current synthetics. All of the technical data publicly available can be found at >> . To get to the technical information from the home page select ‘Trade’ then ‘Technical Info’. A separate window will pop up with a drop down menu. From here you can download the technical information.

Also, the product NatureWorks LLC manufactures is compostable vs. biodegradable. To compost 3 key elements must be present 1) moisture 2) bacteria and 3) heat (120-140F). At a commercial composting facility where all these conditions are regulated a product made from NatureWorks PLA will break-down to carbon dioxide & water in approximately 45 days.

So the PLA will not decompose unless it’s under certain condition. That’s what I hoped for. This is like the fuel cell tech of plastics!

I am wondering if a final external coating (clear coat, etc.) might be timed to the life expectancy of the product to stave environmentally triggered decomp. When the product is of no further use, simply apply a solvent or just break the surface (cutting, scoring, tearing, whatever).

Like you I am interested in controlling/predicting the point at which decomp. begins.

-m out.

Here’e one more PLA source to check out:

hi I just wanted to know, um… I heard there is a corn shortage now in the states, is that affecting this, yknow, um, burgeoning division of bioplastics if you know what I mean? it makes for a whole set of questions, like which comes first, plastic or food? -Fishfool @ The Reef Tank

I agree with Deez here. Just be cause the resource is renewible does not mean that it will form a full circle in the recycling wheel. We had look at replacing a lot of our packaging with this but when it came down to it we realized that it just wasn’t going to work. Not only was it hard for us to get the same results (being that it gives of a yellow tint) it also was a bit of “Green Washing” and we did not want to be known for that.

Also agree with Deez,

The industrial composting issue is a huge drawback of PLA.

Besides… if we use all of our corn to make PLA…where will we get all of the Ethanol for our corn powered SUV’s?

OK, I’ll bite.


“Thank you for your interest in Ingeo ™ fibers, the world’s first man-made fiber produced from 100% annually renewable resources.”

Last time I checked Cotton was a plant. I smell good PR Bull$hit.

isn’t cotton a nature made fiber? Where does that line lay?

I agree with Deez. Recycling is only as good as compliance, and it’s way too easy to toss it in the trash can.

I’ve worked with PLA a couple years ago, and the samples I got were extremely succeptable to deformation. (one sample was in my bag, and after a few hours, I pulled out a dented, deformed mess). These were thin wall parts though… turned me off at the time.

Oops!! My bad. Guess I should read more clearly next time.

hi, after reading this whole thread, the piece that went out on a tangent actually made me reconsider the issue - if the plastic has technical issues that require performance aids, and there is a food shortage with the price of corn rising dramatically, supposedly, then why is it even being considered?

…would like to think I know a bit about this subject due to a recent project I’m working on…
What the big companies don’t tell you is that all their PLA-based products, raw materials etc…which are suitable for applications around the 80-100deg celcius range eg: coffee cups, hot food plates etc… are hybrid/alloy compounds often including straight PE or PP…the good ones use biodegradable-yet-oil-based additives like PBS, …no brand of 100% PLA is currently suitable for high-heat apps…I have a few cups of various materials and they turn to jelly with hot water when the PLA content is above 50%…so just watch for some crafty wording from various OEM’s using the gear…none of the standards, ASTM, ISO etc… test for biodegradability of wall thicknesses greater than 1.6mm…so any products with wall thicknesses larger than that, whilst made from ‘biodegradable/compostable’ polymer, are not technically biodegradable and wont meet the relevant standards. I wont name names but there are a few OEM companies (not raw material manufacturers) out there saying slightly misleading info about their end products…
Having said all that, I am a fan of PLA! Reducing our reliance on oil can only be good. And applications other than packaging and horticulture are so limited right now, I don’t think it’ll be a major threat to the food supply any time soon.

Please correct me if I had some of this info wrong!



Because silly people who ignore basic science and economics pressure silly politicians who do the same. Silly things like ethanol have been around for decades. There’s a reason they didn’t catch on - they couldn’t beat gas.

So after discovering PLA, I’m really considering using it as the basis of a food packaging project - Specifically getting kids to eat healthier. So we all know that kids get lured into junk food at the supermarket because of the fancy packaging. Even “good” food like fresh packed fruits or veggies have to be packaged in something? So why not design packaging out of PLA that kids can find interest in - perhaps something they can collect, wash, and build with? Then when they acquire enough the family can bring it back to the supermarket and “dispose” of it in a bin. This emphasizes corporate responsibility because the manufacturer would be taking responsibility for their product.

I agree, there are many shortcomings to this technology. But it’s a step in the right direction, right?

Does anyone have any thoughts about my idea/? What I want to know is - does it leech harmful chemicals into your body like PET bottles?

This sounds like an interesting idea, but I do have a few points to bring up.

First, most fancy packaged food is not junk food. Junk food normally goes for a low cost, which means low packaging cost. most of our candy comes in laydown bags, flow wraps (think of a candy bar), or a simple paper board carton. If any candy is packaged in fancy premium way it is normally the Godiva’s and Lindts of the world, and these are not marketed towards kids.

Next is I really don’t understand the toy aspect of the packaging. One of the things that we have noticed at MARS is that parents don’t want to by children food products that are packaged in “toy” packaging. They tend to find that it is clutter in the house and it generally ends up in the garbage. What you have to remember is that Mom is the one that is buying this and you have to convince her to buy it first. This is much harder as she thinks about what is going to make a mess in the house, mess on the kid, and so on.

My next point was around the recycling of PLA. There are very few recycling facilities for this material, and they are not spread all over the country. This means that there maybe a lot of freight cost which then cancels out your sustainability efforts. My other thoughts on this material is, when we talk about creating plastic and fuel out of corn don’t we realize that not only is it hard to rotated crops to that extent, but it is driving up food cost as well. We tend to forget that a lot of our food is either made from corn or corn is used for feed for our livestock. My thought are that this is causing more problems than it is causing good.

This is my $0.02

Wow, you make a really solid point about mothers not wanting more junk packaging in the house. This seems to put a damper on my idea - would moms ever find packaging acceptable to keep? One really interesting product: markets vitamin water to kids in packaging that can be used to construct things - think tinkertoys or K’nex. Its organic, low calorie, and gets kids to drink healthy. It seems to have gotten a lot of attention. KidFresh is another branded kid food packaging shop that looks really cool.

Dead end? I don’t know…
Given what you mentioned about the limited number of facilities, yes, but I wonder if one day they will be as ubiquitous as normal recycling centers. Natureworks just released a news article about how their products are approaching 100% sorting rate from the traditional recycling stream, with the use of laser sorting etc.

Are we doomed to keep using pet plastics and one-time yogurt containers?
(Do I have a thesis? heh.)