What if I told you that there is an eco-friendly material that is slowly dominating the world? That material is known as polylactic acid or PLA. But how long does PLA last, and what makes it so attractive to the environmentally-conscious consumer?
PLA has been around since the 1930s, but it has only recently gained popularity due to its environmentally-friendly nature. PLA is a biodegradable and compostable polymer made from renewable resources such as corn starch, sugar cane, cassava roots, or beetroot. These resources make it a more sustainable material that offers an alternative to petrochemical-based plastics. The major advantage of PLA is that it doesn’t emit toxic fumes when disposed of, which makes it ideal for household use.
The life of PLA, however, depends on many factors such as the temperature, moisture, and the specific application. PLA’s lifespan ranges from six months to a few years and can take up to 100 years to decompose. But it’s important to note that this lifespan is significantly longer than the traditional plastic products, which can take up to 500 years to decompose. So, it’s safe to say that choosing PLA products is a step towards a sustainable future.
What is PLA?
Poly(lactic acid), commonly known as PLA, is a bio-degradable polymer made from renewable resources such as corn starch, cassava roots, and sugarcane. PLA is a popular choice for 3D printing due to its environmentally friendly nature, biodegradability, and ability to produce high-quality prints. In addition to 3D printing, PLA is also used in food packaging, disposable cutlery, and medical implants.
Composition of PLA
Polyactic Acid (PLA) is a bio-based, compostable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources like corn starch, sugarcane or cassava root. In its raw form, PLA is a white, odorless, and biodegradable polymer that has physical properties similar to petrochemical-based plastics. PLA is a popular choice for sustainable, disposable products like food packaging, utensils, and 3D printing filaments.
Properties of PLA
- PLA is a semi-crystalline polymer, with a low glass transition temperature of around 60°C
- PLA has good heat resistance, with a melting point of around 150°C
- PLA has low impact resistance and is brittle at room temperature
Biodegradability of PLA
Due to its organic composition, PLA is naturally biodegradable and can break down into simple compounds like water and carbon dioxide through composting or anaerobic digestion. However, the length of time it takes for PLA to degrade depends on various factors like the temperature, moisture level, and microbial activity in the environment.
In a controlled composting environment, PLA can biodegrade completely within 6-12 months. However, in a landfill or marine environment, where the conditions are anaerobic and lacking in sunlight and microbial activity, PLA may take several years to degrade.
Comparison of PLA with Other Bioplastics
|PLA||Corn starch, sugarcane, cassava root||Melt Extrusion||High tensile strength, low impact resistance, compostable||Food packaging, 3D printing, disposable utensils|
|PBS||Sugar beet pulp, corn stalks, wheat straw||Extrusion, Injection Molding||Low melting point, ductile, not biodegradable||Single-use items, toys, consumer goods|
|PHA||Bacteria, microalgae, waste starch||Fermentation, Extraction||Flexible, transparent, biodegradable||Medical implants, drug delivery systems, packaging|
PLA is just one type of bioplastic, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. While PLA has good mechanical properties and is compostable, it may not be the best choice for every application. Conducting a comparative analysis of bioplastics can help manufacturers make informed decisions about which material is best suited for their product and sustainability goals.
Properties and Characteristics of PLA
Polyactic acid (PLA) is a popular biodegradable polymer that has gained attention in recent years due to its eco-friendliness. PLA is derived from renewable sources such as cornstarch, cassava, and sugarcane. Here are some important properties and characteristics of PLA:
- Biodegradability: PLA is a biodegradable polymer that can decompose in the environment over time. It breaks down into lactic acid, which can be absorbed by soil microorganisms and water.
- Strength and Durability: PLA has good mechanical properties and is comparable to some petroleum-based plastics in terms of strength and durability. However, it is not suitable for high-stress applications.
- Transparency: PLA is a clear polymer that can mimic the appearance of glass. It is often used to make food packaging and disposable cups.
- Heat Resistance: PLA has poor heat resistance and is not suitable for applications that require exposure to high temperatures.
- Processing: PLA can be processed using common manufacturing techniques such as injection molding and extrusion.
Overall, PLA is a versatile and eco-friendly polymer that has many practical applications. However, it also has some limitations that need to be considered when choosing the right material for a specific application.
How Long Does PLA Last?
The lifespan of PLA depends on various factors such as UV exposure, temperature, and humidity. In general, PLA can last for several years if stored in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. However, if exposed to UV light and high temperatures, PLA can degrade much faster.
|Indoor Storage||Several years|
|Outdoor Exposure||Several months to a year|
|High-Temperature Exposure||A few weeks to a few months|
It is important to note that PLA can also degrade faster if exposed to moisture, which can cause hydrolytic degradation. Therefore, proper storage and handling are essential to ensure the longevity of PLA-based products.
Biodegradability of PLA
One of the biggest advantages of PLA is its biodegradability. PLA is a biodegradable polymer, which means that it can be broken down by microorganisms into natural substances like water, carbon dioxide, and organic compounds.
However, the biodegradation process of PLA can take a relatively long time depending on various factors such as temperature, humidity, and the presence of microorganisms. Some studies have shown that it can take up to several years for PLA to completely biodegrade under certain conditions.
- Temperature: Higher temperatures can accelerate the biodegradation process of PLA. Studies have shown that PLA can biodegrade faster at temperatures above 60°C.
- Humidity: Moisture is also an important factor in the biodegradation of PLA. Higher humidity levels can increase the rate of biodegradation.
- Microorganisms: The presence of microorganisms is crucial for the biodegradation of PLA. Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and algae can break down PLA into natural substances.
It’s important to note that the biodegradation of PLA only occurs under certain conditions, and if it’s not disposed of properly, it can still contribute to environmental pollution. For example, if PLA ends up in a landfill where there are no microorganisms or moisture present, it will not biodegrade and will take up valuable space.
To maximize the biodegradability of PLA, it’s important to dispose of it in composting facilities where it can be broken down by microorganisms and turned into compost. Composting facilities provide the ideal conditions for PLA biodegradation, including high temperatures, moisture, and the presence of microorganisms.
|Factors that affect the biodegradability of PLA||Effect on biodegradation|
|Temperature||Higher temperatures can accelerate biodegradation|
|Humidity||Higher humidity levels can increase the rate of biodegradation|
|Microorganisms||The presence of microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and algae is crucial for biodegradation|
Overall, the biodegradability of PLA is one of its biggest advantages as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. However, it’s important to dispose of it properly to ensure that it biodegrades and does not contribute to environmental pollution.
How long does PLA last in landfills?
Polylactic Acid or PLA is a biodegradable thermoplastic polymer that is derived from renewable resources. PLA is gaining popularity as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics being used for packaging, disposable cutleries, and straws, among others. PLA is considered to be a green and eco-friendly plastic because of its biodegradability. However, when it comes to landfills, the story is different.
- PLA takes a long time to decompose in landfills.
- PLA needs an industrial composting facility to decompose properly.
- Landfills are primarily anaerobic environments when it comes to biodegrading plastics, which means that the plastic does not have access to oxygen.
The time it takes PLA to decompose depends on various factors such as the temperature, the amount of sunlight, microbial activity, and the presence or absence of oxygen. The biodegradation of plastics in a landfill can take anywhere from several decades to several hundred years, and some studies suggest that PLA can take up to 135 years to break down.
It is important to note that biodegradability is not the same as compostability. PLA needs specific conditions to compost, such as the right temperature and humidity levels, which cannot be achieved in a landfill. In a landfill, even if PLA eventually breaks down, it will release harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect that causes climate change.
|PLA||Decomposition Time in Landfills|
|Under Ideal Conditions||3-6 Months|
|Under Typical Landfill Conditions||80-100 Years|
|Under Harsh Landfill Conditions||Up to 450 Years|
In conclusion, while PLA may be biodegradable and eco-friendly in industrial composting facilities, we cannot rely on its biodegradability when it comes to landfills. PLA may take up to a century to decompose in a landfill and release greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Hence it is important to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics and switch to more sustainable alternatives like reusable containers and utensils.
Composting of PLA
One of the benefits of PLA is that it is compostable, meaning it can break down into natural compounds in the soil when disposed of properly. Composting plays an important role in reducing waste and keeping our environment healthy.
- PLA can take anywhere from 47 days to 6 months to fully break down in a composting facility, depending on various factors such as temperature, humidity, and aeration.
- Composting PLA can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as it breaks down into carbon dioxide and water, both of which are natural compounds that do not harm the environment.
- It is important to note that while PLA is compostable, it cannot be mixed with traditional plastics in the recycling process as it can contaminate the entire batch.
When composting PLA, it should be kept separate from other materials and placed in a compost pile or bin. It is recommended to use industrial composting facilities where the conditions are controlled to ensure efficient breakdown. Home composting is also an option, but it may take longer for the PLA to decompose.
Here is a table summarizing the compostability of PLA:
|PLA||47 days to 6 months|
|Other traditional plastics||Not compostable|
Overall, composting is a great way to dispose of PLA and other organic materials in an environmentally friendly manner. It is important to properly dispose of waste to reduce pollution and ensure a sustainable future.
Applications of PLA
Polyactic acid (PLA) is a biodegradable, plant-based plastic that has become increasingly popular because of its eco-friendly properties. It is used for a myriad of applications from packaging to 3D printing. With PLA, the possibilities are endless and here are seven different applications that showcase its versatility.
- Food Packaging: PLA is commonly used in the food industry to make packaging products such as containers, cups, and utensils. Because it is biodegradable, it provides a more sustainable alternative to conventional plastic packaging. It also requires less energy to produce than traditional plastics.
- 3D Printing: PLA is also used in 3D printing due to its ease of use, low toxicity, and overall versatility. It is commonly used for prototyping, design testing, and even full-scale production. It is also available in a variety of colors and textures, making it easy to create customized products.
- Medical Implants: PLA has been used in the medical industry for years to create biodegradable implants that dissolve over time. It has been used in orthopedic surgeries, implantable sutures, drug delivery systems, and even to create temporary facial implants for reconstructive surgery.
- Textile Industry: PLA fiber is used in textiles to create clothing and other products. It has an appearance and feel similar to cotton and is often used to make athletic apparel such as leggings, t-shirts, and sports bras. It is perfect for those who want eco-friendly clothing without sacrificing performance or comfort.
- Biodegradable Film: PLA is used to create biodegradable film that is used as an alternative to traditional plastic film. It can be used for food packaging, grocery bags, and even in agriculture to create biodegradable mulch films that break down in the soil.
- Cosmetics Packaging: PLA is commonly used in the cosmetics industry to create sustainable packaging for products such as lip balm, lotion, and even mascara. It is also used to make cosmetic applicators such as brushes and spoolies.
- Disposable Tableware: PLA is often used to make disposable tableware such as cups, plates, and utensils. Because it is biodegradable, it is an excellent alternative to traditional plastic tableware. It is also heat-resistant, making it ideal for use in microwave ovens.
With its versatility and eco-friendliness, it is no wonder that PLA has become a popular material for a variety of applications. Whether in the medical industry, textiles, or even cosmetics, PLA can provide a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastics that is easy to use and functional. As technology continues to develop, it will be exciting to see what other new applications will emerge for this remarkable material.
Environmental impact of PLA
When it comes to environmental impact, PLA is often touted as a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. Here are some key points to consider:
- PLA is made from renewable sources, such as cornstarch, sugarcane, and cassava. This makes it a more sustainable option than petroleum-based plastics, which are made from non-renewable fossil fuels.
- PLA has a lower carbon footprint than traditional plastics. According to some estimates, PLA production generates up to 75% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based plastics.
- PLA is compostable, meaning it can break down into natural materials in the right conditions. However, it’s important to note that composting facilities are not yet widely available in many areas, so PLA may still end up in landfills where it may not break down as quickly.
- PLA can have a negative impact on recycling efforts if it is not properly separated from other plastics. This is because PLA behaves differently in recycling facilities than traditional plastics, so it can contaminate other materials.
It’s worth noting that while PLA may be a more sustainable option than traditional plastics, it’s not a perfect solution. It still requires resources to produce and may not break down as quickly in certain environments. As with any product, it’s important to consider the full lifecycle and environmental impact of PLA before making a decision about its use.
Alternatives to PLA
While PLA is one of the most popular 3D printing filaments, there are several other filaments that can be used as alternatives to PLA. These filaments are known for their strength, flexibility, durability and unique characteristics.
- ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): ABS is a widely used thermoplastic 3D printing filament that is known for its strength and durability. It has a high melting point and can withstand heat better than PLA. However, it emits toxic fumes during the printing process, so it should only be used in a well-ventilated area.
- PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate): PET is a strong and durable filament that is known for its toughness and resistance to impact. It is also resistant to moisture and chemicals, making it a good choice for industrial applications.
- Nylon: Nylon is a flexible and strong filament that is known for its durability and resistance to impact. It is also resistant to moisture and chemicals, making it suitable for industrial applications.
In addition to these filaments, there are several other materials that can be used as alternatives to PLA, including TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane), Polycarbonate, and PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol). These filaments have different characteristics and properties, so it’s important to choose the right one for your specific project.
Below is a comparison table of various 3D printing filaments:
|Filament Type||Strength||Flexibility||Durability||Resistance to Moisture|
As you can see from the table above, each filament has its own unique characteristics and properties. When choosing an alternative to PLA, it’s important to consider your specific project requirements and choose a filament that is best suited for your needs.
Future prospects of PLA
As PLA gains popularity as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics, there are a few potential future prospects for this material:
- Increased use in consumer goods: As consumers become more environmentally conscious, there may be a higher demand for products made from PLA. This could include things like disposable cutlery, food packaging, and single-use cups and straws.
- Expanded use in 3D printing: PLA is already a popular material for 3D printing, but as the technology advances, there may be opportunities to use it in larger and more complex projects.
- Advancements in recycling: Currently, PLA is not widely accepted by recycling facilities and can contaminate the recycling process if mixed with traditional plastics. However, research is being done to develop more efficient ways to recycle PLA, which could lead to more widespread use of the material.
One thing to keep in mind is that while PLA is biodegradable, it is not necessarily the most sustainable option for all products. This is because PLA is made from corn or sugarcane, which require a significant amount of resources to grow and process.
As technology advances, there may be opportunities to create PLA from alternative, more sustainable sources or to develop alternative biodegradable materials. However, for now, PLA remains a promising option for reducing plastic waste and promoting sustainability.
How Long Does PLA Last FAQs
1. What is PLA?
PLA is a type of biodegradable thermoplastic made from plant-based materials, such as cornstarch or sugarcane.
2. How long does PLA last?
The shelf life of PLA depends on various factors, such as storage conditions, exposure to heat and moisture, and quality of the material. Generally, PLA last for about 12 months to 2 years.
3. Does PLA degrade over time?
Yes, PLA degrades over time when exposed to sunlight, heat, or moisture, breaking down into carbon dioxide and water. The rate of degradation depends on the environmental conditions and the thickness of the material.
4. Can PLA be recycled?
Yes, PLA can be recycled by using a special process called hydrolysis, which breaks down the material into monomers that can be used to create new PLA products.
5. What happens when PLA expires?
Expired PLA may become brittle and discolored, losing its original strength and properties. It is not recommended to use expired PLA for critical applications.
6. How to store PLA properly?
To extend the shelf life of PLA, it is recommended to store it in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and moisture. A sealable bag or container can also help to keep the material fresh.
7. What are the alternatives to PLA?
There are various biodegradable and compostable alternatives to PLA, such as PHA, PBS, and cellulose-based materials. Each material has its own unique properties and applications.
Thanks for taking the time to read about how long PLA lasts. By understanding the factors that influence its shelf life, you can make informed decisions about using and storing PLA for your projects. Remember to keep your PLA in a cool, dry place, and consider recycling it when it’s no longer needed. Be sure to check back at our site for more informative and engaging articles in the future.