Plastics made from plants is an idea that scientists have touted for years, but no one was able to bring it to the marketplace. That has changed with an announcement from Cargill Incorporated and Dow Chemical Company. In a joint venture, the firms plan to build a $300 million facility in Blair, Neb., to manufacture plastic products from corn.
A new technology uses plant sugars to make a durable plastic material called polylactide (PLA). It is derived entirely from renewable agricultural crops and can compete with petroleum-based plastics in cost and performance. It is also biodegradable and does not produce the wastes or potentially hazardous by-products of plastics made from petroleum.
Located in the heart of corn country, the plant is close to sources of natural plant sugars and adjacent to an existing Cargill corn milling plant. Operations are slated to begin in late 2001, providing what the company calls "high value" jobs for 100 technicians and operators. It will produce 140,00 metric tons of PLA annually. That sounds like a lot of plastic, but being biodegradable, it shouldn’t be around for long.