A commendable effort, with a few setbacks. (Photo: Cote/Creative Commons)
Stonyfield Farms Inc. recently announced its Yo Baby yogurt containers would no longer be made from plastic but from polyactic acid (PLA), a material derived from corn.
The switch was brought about by consumer concern that the baby yogurt containers potentially contained carcinogens. (Yikes!)
While TakePart is happy to commend corporate responsibility—and glad kids won't be chowing down on carcinogens—there's more than one way to look at the decision.
Here, four things you should know about cups made from corn.
1. They're Not Exactly Biodegradable
The implication is that cups made from corn will automatically biodegrade. They don't. The cups require "composting" that will not happen in your backyard bin. The process must take place in a large facility where the compost pile can reach 140 degrees for 10 consecutive days. The chances that you've got access to that kind of compost? Slim to none.
2. Recycling Is Limited
Only one facility in the U.S. actually recycles PLA containers. If the containers are tossed in a landfill, they take as long as regular ol' plastic containers to decompose—100 to 1,000 years. Worse, conventional recycling centers consider PLA a contaminant (since its properties don't mix well with plastic) and pay to extract it, a process that clogs conventional recycling centers.
3. Brought to You By the Same Folks
In most cases (Eco-Products being an exception), your PLA is composed of genetically modified, subsidized monoculture corn from big-business producers, including Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and Cargill Incorporated. Genetically modified foods are banned in Europe and contested by environmentalists and public interest groups in the U.S. for the unknown effects they may have on plants and human health.
4. The Corn Is Still Treated With Pesticides
PLA may be marginally healthier for the environment. That doesn't mean its production is. Major corn producers treat their crops with pesticides that pollute the air, harm workers and may be linked to development of attention deficit disorder.
The Good News
To counterbalance the amount of genetically modified corn that's going into PLA products, Stonyfield Farms Inc. is paying corn producers in Nebraska a hefty sum to produce corn that is not genetically modified or treated with pesticides. (The company can't guarantee its own cups will be made from that exact corn because oversight would be too costly.)
While Stonyfield Farms Inc. hasn't solved our energy crisis, it has taken a step forward. Its switch to PLA containers is a healthy sign that the company listens to consumers—and that as consumers, we can have an impact on what stores sell.
We're crossing our fingers that more companies will follow suit in seeking out more energy efficient and healthy solutions.
Photo: cote/Creative Commons via Flickr