[GRRN] Are non-biodegradable plastics better for the environment?

From: Brenda Platt (bplatt@ilsr.org)
Date: Mon Sep 25 2000 - 08:00:38 EDT

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    FYI. Here's ILSR's response to the piece John Reindl mentioned in
    Scientific American.

    Brenda Platt
    Institute for Local Self-Reliance

    *********************************

    Editor
    Scientific American
    August 9, 2000

    Dear editor,

     In their article, How Green are Green Plastics, Gerngross and Slater
    make a persuasive case, based on personal experience, that the genetic
    engineering of the corn plant is the least efficient and profitable way
    to produce corn-derived plastics. But then they make a remarkable and
    unfounded leap to assert that policy makers should not encourage the
    development of plant-matter derived plastics at all but rather, should
    focus on promoting the burning of plant matter to fuel petrochemical
    plants!

     By the author's own evidence, the Cargill PLA process, which makes
    plastic from corn-derived sugars is, even now when the first plant has
    just begun commercial production, less fossil fuel intensive than
    petrochemical plastics like PET and nylon, and is within shouting
    distance of competing, on an energy efficiency basis, with
    polyethylene. (Contrary to the author's assertion, PLA is not the only
    plant-matter derived plastic on the market.) It is natural to expect
    dramatic improvements in the operational efficiencies of bioplastics
    factories in the future. As a case in point: ILSR's empirical research

    found that ethanol refineries reduced their energy consumption per
    gallon produced by about 85 percent since 1980 (while corn farmers have
    improved their energy efficiency by 20 percent in the same
    period.) (http://www.carbohydrateeconomy.org)

     Recommending that we focus on burning the cellulosic parts of corn
    plants to fuel petrochemical facilities is shortsighted. Manufacturing
    plants are coming on-line that will convert cellulose to much higher
    value end-products like ethanol or intermediate or specialty
    chemicals. Why ask farmers to compete with coal's cost of a penny a
    pound when they can compete with petrochemical products valued at 15-70
    cents per pound or more?

    David Morris
    Vice President
    Institute for Local Self-Reliance
    1313 5th St. SE
    Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414
    612 379 3815



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