Plastic Made from Corn

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One Word of Advice: Now It’s Corn
Plastics Manufactured From the Plant Grow More Appealing Amid Soaring Oil Prices

When Dow Chemical Co. and agriculture giant Cargill Inc. began a major push two years ago to market a plastic made from corn instead of oil, they thought they were tapping into consumers’ growing worries about the environment.

As it turns out, makers of the alternative plastic may get their biggest boost from soaring oil prices and fears of global energy shortages.

"It’s a heck of a lot easier to grow a bushel of corn than to find a barrel of oil," says Kathleen Bader, chief executive of Cargill Dow, the Minnetonka, Minn., joint venture that makes the corn-based plastic. With more corn grown in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, Ms. Bader is pitching the plastic as one way to relieve U.S. dependence on foreign energy. She says it’s a simple choice: "Iowa or Iraq? Nebraska or Nigeria?"

So-called bio-based plastic has its own environmental downside, however. Corn farmers rely heavily on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides to grow their crops, for example. Still, environmentalists say bio-based polymers are more earth-friendly than their petroleum-based competition. More importantly, perhaps, crops such as corn will be around for years to come.

This year, Wild Oats Markets Inc. of Boulder, Colo., switched to food containers made from Cargill Dow’s Nature Works corn-based plastic in all of its 80 Wild Oats Natural Marketplace stores in the U.S. and Canada after deeming that the compostable containers were responsible for increasing deli sales by 12%. Pacific Coast Feather Co., a Seattle maker of comforters and pillows, has more than tripled the number of stores in which it sells its Natural Living brand, made with Dow Cargill’s Ingeo brand corn fiber, including retailers such as Linen ‘n Things and Marshall Field’s. McDonald’s Corp. of Oak Brook, Ill., has used the plastic for to-go cups in Europe, and Sony Corp. of Tokyo put it in some models of its Walkman.

via Jeremy Faludi