This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

July 02, 2003

Corn-Derived Plastic Provides Deli Packaging in U.S. Grocery

Plastic packaging made from corn is now being used at 11 grocery stores in and around Portland, Oregon, marking the debut of corn-based packaging in North America. The plastic, called NatureWorks PLA, is one of many corn-based products being produced by Cargill Dow LLC. Wild Oats Markets, Inc. is selling a variety of deli items wrapped in the corn-based plastic at its 11 Portland stores, with plans to expand its use to more than 100 stores nationwide. The grocery is also negotiating with a local vendor to produce compost from the used packaging, which is biodegradable. See the Cargill Dow press release.

Consumers have expressed a growing interest in biodegradable packaging materials, and a leader in the industry, EarthShell Corporation, has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the number of agricultural sources it can use to manufacture its products. The company currently manufactures foam laminates and food wrapping products from potato starches, yielding products that can be composted. Its recent work with the USDA confirms the ability to produce those products from wheat and corn starches as well. See the EarthShell press release.

Such "bioproducts" derived from organic sources replace petroleum-based products and could lessen our nation's dependence on imported oil. The processes used to manufacture bioproducts also tend to be cleaner, which is why DuPont's efforts to develop a corn-based plastic earned the company a 2004 Presidential Green Chemistry award last week from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DuPont has teamed up with Genencor International, Inc. to produce a chemical called PDO from corn. DuPont and Genencor drew on bioengineering to combine strengths of both a yeast and a bacterium into a microorganism that will ferment the glucose in corn into PDO. Dupont currently produces PDO from petrochemicals and uses it to manufacture a polymer called Sorona. The new biobased method uses less energy while drawing on a renewable resource. DuPont is testing the process in a pilot plant but has already announced plans to develop a large-scale facility using the corn-based process. See the Genencor press release and the EPA Green Chemistry Web site.