Many names are used to designate the field of bioplastics: biopolymers, bioresins, biomaterials. It seems that the word bioplastic is becoming more prevalent.
A bioplastic is a plastic that is wholly or partly made from renewable natural materials, it is also the common name for a plastic that is biodegradable (see Figure below):
A material is said bio-based when derived from renewable natural materials such as corn, rice, sugar cane, beets, wood (for cellulose or lignin), oil cultures...
It is recommended to try to measure the percentage of bio-based materials in the total mass of the product. There are two methods:
The most common and the most recognized one is the carbon-14 (EU: CEN / TS 16137, U.S.: ASTM 6866). The percentage of renewable carbon is related to the mass of non-renewable carbon (by dating both carbons). This method has led to the creation of labels (see Vincotte and Din CERTO) enjoying a good reputation.
Meanwhile, ACDV (the association of plant chemistry) proposes a method that takes into account the mass of the renewable material on the total mass of the material. This method is complementary to the first ONE ; it considers, in addition to carbon, the chemical elements such as oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen.
The PolyLactic Acid (PLA) is a biobased biopolymerbeingtoday mainly produced in the United States from corn.
Sugar derived from corn starch, after fermentation, produces lactic acid.
PLA is then obtained by chemical synthesis of this acid.
The manufacture of PLA requires sugar as raw material. This sugar base could come from grains (corn, wheat, rice ...), cane sugar, beet sugar, cellulose...
The largest producer in the United States mobilized corn since it is a local resource, adapted to the pedo-climatic environment, and offering the best compromise between performance, cost and efficiency of the supply chain.
Nature Works source :
PLA production does not require the use of a single variety of corn. PLA production does not specifically require GMO corn (see Nature Works FAQ). For European customers who require it, Nature Works is committed to only supply non-GMO corn for quantities corresponding to their needs. European orders therefore generate no additional sowing of GMO corn.
No, the manufacture of PLA requires multiple synthetic steps and only the chemical structure is preserved (not biological structure likely to be GMO).
So there is no trace of GMOs in the PLA material.
We require from our suppliers that corn cultures are all certified by the ISCC label which guarantees framework respectful of environmental, social and economic conditions in which cultures are conducted.
World corn production in 2012 is close to 820 million tons, of which more than 300 for the United States.
According to the European Bioplastics (2011 report), world bioplastics production capacity would average 1 million tons mobilizing about 5 million tons of corn or 0.6% of the resources in corn. 500,000 ha out of an Useful Agricultural Area (UAA) of 1.4 billion ha are used for bioplastics, which represents only 0.03% of cultivated areas.
In Europe, not more than 75 000 ha should be mobilized to match the amount of bioplastics marketed in this area (between 100 and 150 000 tons) which is equivalent to less than 0.05% of the European UAA (EU = 27 countries).
Finally, all players in the bioplastics market focus their R&D efforts into alternative raw materials such as food waste, cellulosic materials...
Source: European Bioplastics, May 2011
PLA is biodegradable in the sense of EN 13432 standard, that is to say that it is industrially compostable.
Indeed, in order to degrade, PLA requires a minimum temperature of 58°C and high humidity. Under these conditions, PLA biodegrades in a few weeks without generating toxic residues.
The compost is used as a substrate for agriculture and horticulture.
PLA is much more efficient than a conventional (petrochemical) plastic, especially on criteria such as greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of non-renewable energy.