Polylactic acid or Polylactide (PLA) is a biodegradable, thermoplastic, aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the U.S.) or sugarcanes (rest of world). Although PLA has been known for more than a century, it has only been of commercial interest in recent years, in light of its biodegradability.
In recent years PLA has been used to line the inside of Paper Cups in place of the oil based lining more commonly used and to create Plastic Cups, Cutlery, Carrier Bags, Food Packaging and even Nappies.
This product however is produced by turning land over once used for growing food crops and like bio-fuels contributes to increased food prices. PLA is also more expensive than many petroleum-derived commodity plastics and can create problems in recycling streams by contaminating the oil based plastics (making more waste!)
Now ordinary oil based plastic and recycled plastic can now be made biodegradable.
Oxo-biodegradable Plastics (OBP’s) are conventional plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene to which is added a proprietary mixture (d2w additive) that accelerates the breakdown of the chemical structure of the plastic.
OBP’s degrade, then biodegrade, on land or at sea, in the light or the dark, in heat or cold, in whatever timescale is required, leaving NO fragments NO methane and NO harmful residues.
These plastics are the main ones used in a variety of catering disposable packaging applications. The resultant breakdown products are then amenable to conversion by micro-organisms, for which these products are an energy source or food, into carbon dioxide and water; thereby returning otherwise intractable plastics to the ecosystem.
These plastics can now have a shelf life, determined at the point of manufacture. Shopping carrier bags, food wraps, plastic glasses et al that will completely and harmlessly biodegrade. Utilising this new technology does not mean the products cannot be recycled.
Some commercial products that have already incorporated this new technology include carrier bags, garbage bags, Ziplock bags, cling film, shrink-wraps and EPS trays.
Expect to see use by dates on your plastic cups in the future!
More on OBP’s can be found here.