Corn and other "compostable" bioplastics aren't as green as you'd think. Most don't break down in a conventional compost bin and end up in the landfill where they don't decompose at all. Researchers at the Imperial College of London are about to change the bioplastics game, developing a truly compostable cup.
Individuals would be able to compost these new, sugar-based cups in their home bins. The glucose molecules that make up the plastic would react with moisture over time and break down into harmless components.
Another big concern with corn-based plastics is its effect on the food supply. Rather than tapping food sources like sugar beets, the sugar for this new plastic comes from trees and grasses or even from agricultural and food waste. Dr. Charlotte Williams, who is heading up the research, calls these non-food sources the technology's "key breakthrough."
Not only does their sugar plastic address the food issue, it uses far less energy and water than current bioplastics.
The one thing I wonder about this new plastic is how much land it would take to grow enough trees and grasses for large scale production. Whether they're food crops or not if it takes vast amounts of land to meet demand, it would pose its own problems. I'd hate to see us cutting down forests in order to grow plants for plastic production.
Williams and her team are now developing "specific material characteristics" for different applications, like food packaging and medical uses. Working with some commerical partners, they say the sugar plastic is about two to five years away from being available on the market. In the meantime, maybe the best solution for drinking on the go is to bring your own, ultra cool, reusable cup?