PLA – Polylactic Acid
PLA is a polyester synthesized from lactic acid or lactide monomers, which are produced by the fermentation of crops like corn, wheat, beet, potatoes, sugar cane and tapioca. It is biodegradable and compostable, although it is generally not suitable for home composting. Under industrial composting conditions, PLA can take 3-4 months to be composted.
Most PLA packaging produced is rigid and is used in cups and trays, although flexible packaging is also becoming available (straws, bags etc). Although biodegradable and compostable, it’s important to remember that PLA plastics are not marine degradable, nor are they recyclable. In fact, if thrown out with recycling, PLA can be extremely problematic in contaminating the recycling stream.
With applications somewhere between that of PET and polystyrene, PLA is an earth-friendly, non-toxic option for cold food containers, smoothie cups and straws. PLA can also be crystallized to form harder versions for applications such as coffee cup lids and PLA utensils.