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Biocompostable Plastics

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Traditional Plastics

Traditional plastic is made from petroleum products. The production of petroleum-based plastics involves all kinds of chemicals, some of which have raised health concerns among consumers. The other problem is that these type of plastics do not biodegrade and they are made with a non-renewable resource: petroleum. There are just lots of environmental and health concerns associated with conventional plastics.

Thankfully, plastics technology has come a long way. There are now biocompostable plastics made from renewable, biodegradable corn starch. In fact, you’ve probably already seen them. Have you ever used a plastic cup and noticed the text made from corn? Then, you’ve used corn start biocompostables!

How Are Corn Starch Biocompostables Made?

As the name implies, corn starch biocompostables are made from corn starch. The starch is converted into a polymer, the main ingredient in materials that have a plastic-like feel. The plastics can be clear or opaque, soft or hard. A kind of acid called polylactic acid (PLA) is made from the corn starch. This is why corn starch biocompostables are sometimes called PLA plastics.

PLA plastics are molded the same way conventional plastic is. They can be molded, extruded, or shaped by heating and cooling (thermal shaping).

Biocompostable Means More than Biodegradable

Biocompostable plastics are called so because they are a step beyond just biodegradable. For a plastic to be considered biocompostable, it must meet certain criteria. For instance, it must decompose at the same rate as paper, and it must break down into harmless material such as water, carbon dioxide, or biomass (organic matter).

Biocompostable plastic must not produce any toxic substances as it decomposes. It must also break down to the point that it cannot be discerned or filtered out of the surrounding compost. PLA plastics cannot be recycled. They must be composted.

The Benefits of Corn Starch Biocompostables

  1. No toxic chemicals associated with conventional plastic (such as polyvinyl chloride or dioxin)
  2. Can be disposed of in your home compost pile
  3. Eco-friendly (made from a renewable resource and less wasteful)
  4. Durable
  5. Especially well-suited for cold applications, such as in the freezer (this is good news, since chemicals from conventional plastic tend to leach into food when frozen)
  6. Corn allergies are not an issue since the allergen, profilin, is destroyed in the manufacturing process.

The Disadvantages of Corn Starch Biocompostables

  1. May not be as heat resistant
  2. Not microwave safe
  3. Can’t be thrown in the garbage or recycled; must be composted at home or in a commercial facility
  4. Thicker, harder items such as cutlery can takes up to 180 days to break down

Common Types of Biocompostable Items Made from Corn Starch

There are all sorts of items that can be made with PLA plastic. Here are some of the most common biocompostable plastic items:

  • Flatware/cutlery
  • Bowls
  • Straws
  • Cups (hot and cold)
  • Water bottles
  • Trays
  • Lids
  • Food storage containers (including “clamshell” containers used by take-out restaurants)
  • Bags
  • Plates

Behavioral Waste

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About A Minute’s Worth Of Hot Water Is Lost Every Time A Shower Is Taken

Behavioral waste occurs when bathers use their time comfortably and efficiently while waiting for hot water to reach the shower. It is defined by the period of time they continue to remain away from the shower after bathing temperature water has arrived. Because its volume will vary based on a shower head’s flow rate, behavioral waste is most appropriately expressed in time. Analysis of recent data collected by Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) in the greater San Francisco Bay Area combined LBNL analysis of the 1999 REUWS (Residential End Uses of Water Study) suggests that behavioral waste exists within a 38 – 56 second range.

The low end of the range, 38 seconds, is derived from the analysis of field data collected by an LBNL monitoring system in December 2013.

The high end of the behavioral waste range, 56 seconds, is computed by applying the results from the December 2013 LBNL field data to conclusions drawn from a 2004 LBNL paper that analyzed approximately 26,000 shower events within the 1999 REUWS database.

Given the data’s conservative nature (it was predominantly collected in areas with “greener” behaviors than typical) it’s reasonable to conclude that about a minute’s worth of hot water is inadvertently wasted every time a shower is taken and behavioral waste will vary from region to region.

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That’s Several Gallons Lost Per Shower

Behavioral waste must ultimately be converted to gallons for the purpose of making water and energy savings calculations. When making this conversion a shower head’s flow rate and other factors must be considered. Given these variables, behavioral waste can range from 1.7 to 3.4 gallons to as much as 2.5 to 4.9 gallons per shower (see matrix below).

Sugarcane bagasse

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Sugarcane Bagasse

Sugarcane is a non-food renewable resource, yielding new harvests annually. Sugarcane-bagasse is the name for the plant fiber that remains after sugar producers process the sugarcane stalk. We take the fiber and mold it into strong and attractive food packaging products. It is certified compostable and biodegradable.