What is PLA?

 What is PLA?

Polylactic Acid (PLA) is a biodegradable polymer derived from lactic acid, which is produced by fermentation of glucose, which is derived from starch.

Polylactic Acid has many of the same qualities of other petroleum based plastics, but requires up to 50% less fossil fuels to make, and is biodegradable, unlike other plastics. It is made from 100% renewable resources such wheat, corn or other starch rich products.

PLA is clear and naturally glossy, it is resistant to moisture and grease and is resistant to flavour and oder, in a similar way to the plastic used for soft drinks and food packaging. It is also recognised as a safe packaging material for food by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

Although PLA is not generally used as much as its counterpart plastics yet, it has actually been around since Wallace Carothers discovered it in 1932 (although the refined process for producing it was not patented until 1954).

Due to high production costs, PLA did not attract much attention between then and the mid – eighties, until advances were made in the fermentation of glucose, drastically lowering the cost of production. In 2001 Cargill Inc. and Dow Chemical Company formally launched Natureworks PLA technology in the US, which is significantly expanding the market by making PLA available on a commercial scale.

What is PLA used for?

  • General Purpose Film
  • Extrusion Coating on Paper
  • Bags, Cups, Plates, Bowls, Cutlery
  • Fabrics – Clothing and Furnishing
  • Medical Industry – Implants, Drug Delivery Systems, Re-absorbable Sutres

The Science Bit

PLA is made by taking a starch based product such as corn and milling it to separate the starch from the raw material. Un-refined dextrose is then processed from the starch and this is turned into lactic acid using fermentation similar to that used by beer and wine producers. The lactic acid is turned into a polymer plastic by using the process of condensation.

The Earth-Friendly Bit

PLA is fully compostable, it can be recycled back into PLA or it can biodegrade in water, carbon dioxide and organic material

Where does Little Cherry fit in to your lovely story?

We have tried to use PLA instead of plastics as an alternative packaging on as many of our items as possible. Look out for eco-friendly PLA packaging on many of our items – including wrappng paper and invitations and our clear cups are also made from it!