Plastic goes natural, but will consumers pay?

CNET’s News.com has a good overview of recent developments around natural, biodegradeable plastics, at this point made mostly from corn starch. The leader in this area is Metabolix, which through a joint venture with Archer Daniel Midlands is moving aggressively to make corn-based plastic cups, bags, utensils, and the like. While I think more study is needed to examine the impact of these biodegradeable products on landfills and recycling programs — that is, are they really natural or harmless? Do they contaminate recycling streams? — I see some great potential in this area, assuming we can wean ourselves off corn and start making these products from residual biomass. Perhaps a bigger question we should be asking is whether it makes more sense to turn biomass into plastics or convert them into a biofuel. Down the road, I’m thinking we go the plastic and chemical route, as I firmly believe the future of transportation will be battery-electric and that the electricity to charge the batteries will be emission-free.

2 thoughts on “Plastic goes natural, but will consumers pay?”

  1. >…as I firmly believe the future of transportation will be battery-electric and that the electricity to charge the batteries will be emission-free.< Tyler, If there is any individualized motor transportation it will undoubtedly be electric. It is becoming abundantly clear that biofuels will actually lead to greater green house gas emissions and not fewer. The Dutch and the rest of Europe are already finding this out. This also fails to take into account the loss of top soil and the implications on food production because of the use of corn based ethanol. This is unlikely to be mitigated in the near term because no capacity exists to produce ethanol from cellulosic sources and Archer Daniels Midland, the largest producer of corn based ethanol, is unlikely to change this. Meanwhile here in the States our Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratories released a study, back on December 13th, which stated that 82 percent of the commuting car fleet could be converted to electric and we could meet the power needs of this car fleet with the spare capacity on the electric grid at night without building a single new power plant. There's plenty of potential in that area. Detroit will have to be led kicking and screaming into the future. It's either that or we’ll have to start riding bicycles.

  2. I’d be interested to know more about what’s happening in making biodegrade-able plastic bags, and Ontario or Federal policy on the issue. Seems like a waste of petroleum as well as a serious environmental problem.

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