NatureWorks PLA, developed by chemicals company Cargill Dow, is a polymer made from corn, and is the first compostable plastic that is truly practical for commercial applications, a spokesman for its developers told edie. Whereas other plastics on the market that are starch-based tend to start falling apart more quickly than might be desired for packaging products, NatureWorks needs to be subjected to particular levels of moisture and temperature before it starts to decompose, such as during the composting process, explained the spokesman.

The polymer is being used as the exterior packaging film on Dunlop’s golf ball sleeves, the first time that the product has been used in a non-pilot project.

“This is a significant milestone for the packaging industry as it is the first time that a cost-competitive, 100% annually renewable resource-based polymer is being used in a wide-scale consumer application,” said Jim Hobbs, head of packaging at Cargill Dow. “NatureWorks PLA has been very successful in test market applications to date, but our work with these two leading companies truly marks our first commercial packaging film application.”

According to its manufacturers, NatureWorks can be used to make both flexible and rigid packaging, and can also be spun into fibres to make clothing. The carbon used to make the polymer is taken from plant starches, which are broken down into natural sugars. Following a process of fermentation and separation, carbon and other constituents of the sugars are formed into polymers. By using corn rather than petroleum as the feed stock, NatureWorks PLA uses 20-50% less petroleum than comparable plastics, according to Cargill Dow.

“This application holds worldwide potential due to the performance and environmental benefits of the packaging film,” said Hobbs. “It proves that our product not only competes on a performance and cost basis, but also gives converters and brand owners an environmentally responsible packaging film option that they can be proud of.”

Cargill Dow LLC is joint venture between Cargill Incorporated and Dow Chemical (see related story), established with the intention of developing high-performance materials from annually renewable resources.

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