April 24, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Plastic goods for your compost heap
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There are already biodegradable packaging products created with polyactic acid (PLA), also typically made from corn starch.
Metabolix executives said PLA does not stand up as well to heat as Mirel and can be composted only in industrial composting facilities.
Mirel plastic can biodegrade in soil or any type of compost pile. It will also break down in septic systems and waste treatment facilities or in wetlands and marine environments.
"The key thing with Mirel is that it opens up a range of options for the end-of-life fate," Barber said. "Now plastics last hundreds or thousands of years."
On the other hand, PLA is clearer than Mirel, so most likely it will be used to package products that will be chilled, like produce or sandwiches, Barber said.
Another company called Cereplast is also making biodegradeable goods, such as food packaging and utensils, from corn starch.
In contrast to Metablox, Cereplast said that with rising petroleum prices, its corn-based products will be the same price or cheaper than traditional plastics.
ADM chose to partner with Metabolix because its patented technology makes it a leader in the field, said Terry Stoa, vice president of technology assessment at ADM.
He said that the production plant, now under construction, will be capable of making 110 million pounds of Mirel per year.
Although the company is betting that consumers will be willing to pay more for Mirel as a green product, company executives concede there isn't a great awareness of how plastics are produced today.
A study commissioned by Telles found that 72 percent of the American public does not know that conventional plastic is made from petroleum.
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