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Re: [greenyes] Plastic from corn?

Like ethanol from corn, plastic from corn is a niche product that emerges from a very convoluted policy environment. It is clear that farm production is heavily subsidized in this country, as are key inputs to farming such as irrigation water and fossil-fuel intensive fertilizers, pesticides, and transport (via subsidies to oil and gas). I would be very surprised if corn based plastic were to be competitive at all absent these subsidies, other than in niche markets where biodegradability is a key attribute of consumer demand in a non-price sensitive market. Even with the subsidies, it is unlikely that corn-based plastics could compete with commodity plastic resins made from fossil fuels in production systems that exhibit enormous economies of scale.

Do these plastics have a place? I would say yes: in the applications whether litter is likely, and where that litter creates significant aesthetic or environmental damages. Another application might be to contain organic waste streams headed for composting.

Should the environmental community embrace the resins more generally because they are more recyclable? Given the enormous environmental damages associated with corn production, I would say absolutely not.

Furthermore, it is my opinion that recyclers should be quite aggressive in ensuring all new materials that enter the waste stream are compatible with materials recovery -- whether that material is blue glass, PET cans, or biodegrable plastic. Ideally, there would be materials surcharges on manufacturers that produce materials that diminish and degrade the value of the recyclable stream. This would ensure they pay attention to the disposal side of their product as they are developing it. Absent actual fees, political challenges are the least we can do.

-Doug Koplow

Doug Koplow
Earth Track, Inc.
2067 Massachusetts Avenue - 4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02140
Tel: 617/661-4700
Fax: 617/354-0463

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