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.