The Problem With Polylactic Acid (PLA) & Other Bioplastics?

PLA & other bioplastics, make up around a quarter of all compostable plastics sold worldwide, and is used for transparent cold drinks cups, clear windows on food packaging like sandwich boxes, drinking straws and more.

The biggest concern with these types of plastic is the specific and necessary conditions that are needed for proper composting. Rather than being recycled with regular plastic materials, PLA must be sorted separately and brought to a industrial closed composting environment. However, because of a mis-representation of the credentials of PLA most people dispose of it in general waste bins meaning it wont decompose.

If these plastics end up in the ocean, it is bad news! “PLA is basically nondegradable in sea water,” says Dr Frederik Wurm of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, which means if it goes into the sea, “it’s no better than any other plastic”.

In fact, Vegware, one of the leading suppliers of PLA, points out that compostables are not a solution to marine plastic pollution – but in the rush to replace plastic with more environmentally friendly packaging, it’s a caveat that seems to have got lost.