What is PLA?

What is PLA?

Posted By: Bonnie Biodegradable (Pty) Ltd Published: 23/07/2019 Times Read: 296 Comments: 0

PLA plastics are defined as BIOPLASTICS

(Guest Post by Bonnie Biodegradable (Pty) Ltd)

Most plastics are derived from the distillation and polymerization of non-renewable petroleum reserves, but Polylactic Acid (PLA) is different. Instead of traditional petroleum, PLA utilises renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. It is defined as a bioplastic [Ref], as it is derived from biomass.

Polylactic Acid is biodegradable [Ref] and has characteristics similar to polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), or polystyrene (PS). It can be produced from already existing manufacturing equipment (those designed and originally used for petrochemical industry plastics, and although it is more expensive to produce at this stage than petroleum-based plastics, its impact on the environment is minimal when compared with traditional plastics.

Different Types of Polylactic Acid

There are several different types of Polylactic Acid, including Racemic PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid), Regular PLLA (Poly-L-lactic Acid), PDLA (Poly-D-lactic Acid), and PDLLA (Poly-DL-lactic Acid). They each have slightly different characteristics but are similar in that they are produced from a renewable resource (lactic acid: C3H6O3) as opposed to traditional plastics which are derived from non-renewable petroleum.

PLA Benefits

PLA is extraordinarily versatile and can replace most traditional-petroleum based plastic products. Its main benefit is the fact that it naturally degrades when exposed to the environment. Typically, a PLA bottle left in the ocean would degrade within six to 24 months, which compared to conventional plastics that can take several hundred to a thousand years to degrade. This makes PLA the top choice for plastic alternatives when considering the environment.

Corn Starch BioCompostables

As the name implies, corn starch biocompostables are made from corn starch. PLA (polylactic acid) is typically made from the sugars in corn starch (as is the case with Bonnie Bio‘s certified compostable and biodegradable plastic alternatives range), cassava or sugar cane. It is biodegradable, carbon-neutral and edible. To transform corn into plastic, corn kernels are immersed in sulphur-dioxide and hot water, where its components break down into starch, protein, and fibre.

The American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) define Compostable Plastic as plastic which is "capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site as part of an available program, such that the plastic is not visually distinguishable and breaks down to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials (e.g. cellulose) and leaves no toxic residue."

Did you Know? Plant-based bioplastics such as PLA use about 65% less energy to produce versus conventional plastics, generates 68% fewer greenhouse gases and contains no toxins!

Why Bio and Not Oxo-Degradable?

Oxo-degradable products, recently banned in Europe, are made by adding specific additives to traditional petroleum-based plastic. The additives are based on chemical catalysts, containing transition metals such as cobalt, manganese, iron etc. These cause fragmentation as a result of chemical oxidation of the plastic’s polymer chains triggered by UV irradiation or heat exposure. These degraded products may be invisible to the naked eye, but they still end up causing irreparable harm to the environment. As they can’t be filtered out by water systems, these micro-plastics invariably enter the food chain. Conclusive evidence has yet to be presented that these fragments fully biodegrade. Not surprisingly, many believe these oxo plastics are worse for the environment than traditional plastics. Oxo-degradable plastics should not be confused with bioplastics!

Why Bonnie Bio is Different

When the Bonnie Bio products break down, they breakdown consistently with other natural materials. Bonnie Bio biobased certified compostable and biodegradable plastic alternatives have been manufactured to comply with the international standards EN 13432, AS 5810, ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868 and carry the DIN CERTCO, CE, FDA and Seedling logos. Bonnie Bio is the only company in South Africa to have international certifications.

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