What you need to know about PLA

Polylactic Acid (PLA) bioplastic is a material made from fermented starchy plants such as corn, sugarcane and cassava. This natural polymer is a renewable resource, that is a popular environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics like polyethene terephthalate (PET).

Green Choice offers a range of PLA packaging including lids, containers and cups. It is often used as a lining on cardboard cups to stop liquid leaking out – instead of polyethylene.

As a thermoplastic, PLA turns to a liquid form when it reaches temperatures of 150-160 degrees Celsius. This means it can easily be moulded into any shape, with very little waste.

Is PLA sustainable?

Using PLA eliminates the need to use non-renewable and unsustainable petroleum resources. Of course, the disposal of PLA-based products is important in maintaining the sustainable lifecycle of the material – and as more commercial waste-management plants become able to process PLA and separate PLA linings.

Are there multiple options for PLA?

Yes – crystalised PLA is another option in the PLA umbrella known as CPLA. Chalk is added to the PLA as a catalyst which creates a harder material that isn’t as susceptible to hot temperatures. We use crystalised PLA (CPLA) in our Green Choice cutlery and our coffee cup lids.

What is best practice for businesses using PLA products?

PLA has a low resistance to heat (around 60 degrees C) – so is unsuitable for very high temperature applications (such as reheating in a microwave). To maintain the products integrity, we strongly recommend storing all PLA products in a cool dry place. Sunlight has the potential to erode the product over a long period of time.

What other purposes are there for PLA?

In some parts of the world, PLA is used for making different products that will not be contaminated with food waste. For example, 3D printers use PLA. In these instances, PLA can be, and sometimes is, recycled and not turned into compost.

Do PLA products break down?

Yes! PLA is biodegradable and commercially compostable. However, many coffee cups and takeaway vessels that are only lined with PLA end up in landfills because very few waste-management companies have the infrastructure to separate the lining and the cup. In the future this is more likely to become common practice as eco-alternatives to plastic become the norm.

How do you recycle PLA?

PLA is categorised as recycling ID Code 7 which represents "other" plastics. This class includes a number of petroleum-based plastics that are not considered mainstream, and they are all bundled together into class 7. The problem with placing PLA in this mix is that PLA is not petroleum-based and recyclers do not want it bundled. Yet PLA is still seen as an "other" plastic, so it is classed as 7.

PLA is not recycled in the same way as other plastics because of its significantly lower melting point. There is progress to be made in the classification system, which should see PLA put into its own class for lower temperature melting and recycling.

For a quick guide to the plastic recycling classifications in NZ, click here to download.

What certifications does Green Choice PLA have?

All Green Choice products are either home compostable or commercially compostable. Products with PLA lining are commercially compostable only.

Currently the challenge in composting PLA commercially in New Zealand is that there are only 12 commercial composting facilities in the country. We strongly urge you to contact your local government representative to ask for better commercial composting access.

Are PLA products right for my business?

We encourage you to reach out if PLA Bioplastic food packaging is on your radar, and we are always happy to answer your questions. If you email hello@greenchoice.nz we can organise samples to be sent out — to cater to your specific needs. Browse our full product range here to discover an environmentally friendly alternative for your business.

Call us on 0800 864 725 for any inquiries.

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