Chemistry

How are Biodegradable Plastics Made



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Persons wonder how it is possible to manufacture a plastic which is biodegradable; however, it is happening now.  There is such a material:  labeled biodegradable plastic; however, not totally biodegradable in nature.  The best term to label plastic which does not offer as much harm to the environment is:  “green plastic.”    Green indicates the plastic is more environmentally friendly.  The article provides the reader insight how more biodegradable plastic or green plastic is produced.


Most persons acquainted with the field of Bioplastics easily recognize corn as a chief ingredient in manufacturing plastics considered biodegradable.  The plastics made from corn are positioned to attain a greater share of the industry, especially with everyone’s environmental concern in the corporate community running high.  Also, America’s dependency on oil produced at foreign locales has become a very wide-spread concern.  Research is being performed as a consequence in order to find alternative solutions, since items manufactured from petrochemicals are in danger of eventual extinction.


The corn alternative, or plastics made from corn, are starting to surface in items such as plastic food containers, gift cards you purchase at your local retailer and the casings of your mobile phone.  This information is shared by Steve Davies, a representative/spokesperson for the company NatureWorks. 


The preceding company’s corporate facility is based in Minnetonka, Minnesota.  The company is noted as developing one of the very first types of plastic manufactured from plants.  Its manufacture of such a plastic is based on a technology referred to specifically as Ingeo.  The Ingeo material is used in such items as packaging for food items, clothes and diapers.  This resin technology comes in the form of plastic pellets.


NatureWorks increased the size of its production facility in Nebraska in order to manufacture three hundred million pounds of plastic plant-based pellets annually.  The preceding is clearly an indicator that plant-based alternatives for manufacture of biodegradable plastics are very much a reality.


The NatureWorks Company is a subsidiary of Cargill and Teijin of Japan.   Cargill and Teijin of Japan is a major player within the agribusiness industry.  Research conducted by NatureWorks clearly indicated a demand in the future of fifty billion pounds of bioplastics within a 2 year to 5 year span of time.  The fifty-billion-pound approximation represents a ten percent share of the plastics market—worldwide.  The preceding positive conclusion is indicative that NatureWorks is on the right track using corn as an alternative in its production of plastic.


Suffice it to say when asking about how biodegradable plastics come about, without giving away a company’s trade secrets, corn provides companies like NatureWorks a huge advantage over the competition.  The advantage is useful to companies such as Naturally Iowa, an organic milk producer.  The latter company uses plant-based plastic pellets from the Minnetonka-based company mentioned above to produce milk bottles as well as water bottles.  This information was shared by Naturally Iowa’s Chief Executive Officer, William Horner.  "This is one of the greatest hidden sources of replacing petroleum that we've got," Horner remarked.


He also informed:  The price of each bottle is five percent to ten percent higher than that of regularly produced plastic bottles, but that it was well worth it from an economic and environmental standpoint—if you viewed matters in the long run.  He established that price-wise, when you compare the cost of disposing of plastic produced by traditional means to that of plastic that is compostable—the price evens out.


The primary ingredient found in plastics made of corn is polylactide.  The acronym of this ingredient is PLA.  The majority of disposable products made from PLA need to go to a commercial composting facility so proper decomposition of the material can take place.  Even though PLA is recyclable, it cannot be recycled alongside petroleum-based plastic products.  This merely implies that, Yes, even though the corn based plastic is recyclable in nature; it is not as simple as throwing the bottle into the standard recycling bin or atop the most readily available compost heap.   


However, expect new developments from a research standpoint that will make “biodegradable” products even more attractive in the future.  For example, Metabolix, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already come up with a biodegradable plastic referred to as Mirel.  The plastic decomposes in natural soil, water and even compost.  The bioplastic is made from microbes which convert the sugar of corn into polymers during the process of fermentation.  The new biodegradable material is still higher in costs than the petroleum-based plastics, so it has been used primarily in the packaging of natural cosmetics.  Still, the future of Mirel appears most optimistic.  For example, Metabolix has established a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland to construct a plant in Iowa in order to facilitate the production of one hundred ten million pounds of Mirel yearly.  The name of the Archer Daniels Midland and Metabolix joint venture is Telles. 

In conclusion, production and research continues to evolve within the bioplastics industry.   Certainly the corporate community is optimistic about the evolution of bioplastics as the investment in new bioplastic facilities, represented above, clearly demonstrates.   


References:


http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/2008-12-25-biodegradable-plastic_N.htm

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