Rant - March 21, 2006 - Joanne

The new two-edged knife:
Bioplastic made from Corn

I love the idea of the neat, new plastic that’s compostable It ultimately will result in less petroleum based plastic being made, less plastic going into landfill, and hopefully will reduce the greenhouse effect, etc. But while I was busy with the new-found glow of saving resources by purchasing biodegradable, compostable starch based products, I was over-looking a crucial issue; that most of the new bioplastics are made from corn. Corn is biodegradable and we have lots of it - that's great, right? Well maybe. Here's why:

Corn which the US already grows massive amounts of - suddenly has a new outlet (you know the same stuff they use in high-fructose corn syrup). Biotech and Chemical companies are really interested in this new plastic – especially the big one who’s almost singularly responsible for GMO corn.

So was that an Organic non-GMO biodegradable compostable plastic item that you just purchased? I didn't think so. It might have been non-GMO but I haven't found an organic labeled plastic. The Mater-Bi material (from Italian company Novamont) is non-GMO (and "sustainable"). The PLA-Polylactide is not non-GMO (used mostly for clear plastic containers - like water bottles).

Oh and did I mention I read somewhere (I think it was Michael Pollan that said it) that there’s more corn found in the US food chain than anywhere else in the world? You pretty well can’t avoid corn now. Consider how much corn will be around if all the plastic water bottles turn into corn-based bottles - sure they compost - and ultimately where does that compost end up?

Why does it matter?
If you support non-GMO then you can’t support the new non-GMO PLA corn-based bioplastics – at least not right now, and then there’s the whole issue of non-organic corn itself (pesticide use is rampant in corn growing - not to mention chemical fertilizer). Certainly this is not a direction which ultimately promotes diversity? Is this really a sustainable choice?

What do you think?
Send me an email!


More Reading:

The Clean Edge on PLA

Michael Pollan on Corn

Michael Pollan “When Corn Becomes King”

Treehugger: Walmart to use PLA

Treehugger: Best of the Bio-Plastics

Shopping Sources:

Earthware make Non-GMO wheat cutlery

Biobag uses Non-GMO starch

WorldCentric - BioPlastics

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