So what exactly is PLA?
PLA also known as Polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) which is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch in the United States, tapioca products (roots, chips or starch mostly in Asia) or sugarcanes (in the rest of world).
In the U.S a majority of PLA is made with genetically modified corn (Nature Works is the largest provider of genetically modified cornstarch in the world.) According to Elizabeth Royte, in Smithsonian, “PLA may well break down into its constituent parts (carbon dioxide and water) within 3 months in a controlled composting environment, that is, an industrial composting facility heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and fed a steady diet of digestive microbes. But it will take far longer in a compost bin, or in a landfill packed so tightly that no light and little oxygen are available to assist in the process. Indeed, analysts estimate that a PLA bottle could take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.”
Let’s get one thing straight PLA is not compostable in home compost, go ahead and try…you will be waiting a very long time and it still might not happen. PLA is ASTM 6400 which means a product can be considered compostable if a product has undergone 60% biodegradation within 180 days; the standard is 15-18 weeks at a majority of industrial compost facilities. So these industrial compost facilities, where are they? According to this site in the United States there are 422 composting facilities registered, what each facility is capable of composting I am unsure, you would have to contact the particular facility you are interested in.
So if you buy PLA products, such as PLA single use eating utensils and you do not have access to an industrial compost or you just think it will be okay to throw the fork, spoon or knife in the garbage because it seems natural enough, unfortunately it is not. That fork, spoon, or knife could take hundreds of years to decompose. If you do not plan to send your single use PLA purchases to an industrial compost, I do not see how it would be a rational investment. Not only because PLA utensils will sit in a landfill forever but because they are not very durable, they bend and break very easily and can become droopy if placed in heat. So if you’re not planning on disposing of PLA properly what have you accomplished? If you are one of those people who does not have access to an industrial compost or really just do not have time to think about it and prefer quality products, try purchasing biodegradable & recyclable plastic products , for example ENSO plastics.
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