All about PLA & CPLA – compostable bioplastics made from plant starches

At Vegware, we manufacture our catering disposables from a variety of plant-based materials. We use paper, board and pulp, but the big difference is that we don’t use conventional plastics.

Our cups still need to be leakproof, and our clients still want clear windows, so we use compostable bioplastics – compostable materials derived from plant sources.

A compostable lunch: PLA cold cups and portion pots, PLA linings in our hot cups, and CPLA coffee lids and cutlery

What is PLA?

PLA is a compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars. PLA stands for polylactic acid. It can be made from any sugar, such as corn starch, cassava, sugar cane, or sugar beet. NatureWorks is the world’s largest producer of PLA, and a key partner to Vegware. Industrial corn is the primary source crop at the moment, but NatureWorks are working actively to diversify feedstocks, investigating other fibrous non-food crops, or even creating lactic acid from carbon dioxide or methane.

NatureWorks refer to their PLA under the Ingeo brand, and offer full information online on how it is made, and end of life options.

Vegware PLA compostable bioplastic biodegradable

How PLA is made

Corn plants are milled to extract the starch, in the form of glucose. The glucose is then fermented to produce lactic acid. Next up, a chemical process transforms the lactic acid into a polymer, which can be made into pellets, known in the industry as resin.

Just like a conventional plastic resin, the PLA pellets can be used in a variety of ways – extruded into a sheet or film, injection moulded, cast into sheets, or spun into fibres. PLA has a huge range of applications, but at Vegware we use it for:

  • PLA-coated board for paper cups and soup containers
  • Clear cold cups, salad containers, deli and portion pots, and lids for a variety of products
  • Clear windows in sandwich wedges, salad boxes and bags

    PLA pellets ready for a variety of uses

CPLA – crystallised PLA for higher heat use

PLA has a low melt point, so is best for cold use up to around 40ºC or 105ºF. Where more heat resistance is needed such as in cutlery, or lids for coffee or soup, we use a crystallised form. This involves adding chalk to the PLA to act as a catalyst, and then rapidly heating and cooling the PLA resin during production. The result is a product which is heat stable to 90ºC or 194ºF. Vegware’s CPLA products are still suitable for industrial composting, in either in-vessel or open windrow composting.

CPLA is crystallised PLA, for hotter uses like coffee lids or cutlery

Corn for food, feed AND industrial uses

The industrial corn used to make NatureWorks Ingeo PLA is non-food-grade, so it is not competing with food for human consumption. The whole plant is harvested, and every part of it is used. The protein and starch have many different uses:

  • the plant-based proteins are used to make animal feed;
  • the starch has many industrial uses, including in airbags, corrugated cardboard, recycled paper, pharmaceuticals, condoms, oil refining and drilling…and making PLA.

Read more information on food and bioplastics from NatureWorks, the world’s largest producer of PLA.

All of the corn plant is used, creating animal feed and many industrial products

Sustainable growing practices

The corn plants are grown using sustainable farming practices, without excessive pesticides and water use. In the same way that FSC can prove the sustainability of timber production, NatureWorks has independent ISCC PLUS certification – more info here. This in-depth scheme demonstrates the sustainable growing practices for the plants used by NatureWorks to make PLA:

  1. No sourcing from land with high biodiversity, high carbon stock or from peatland (2008 as the reference year).
  2. Agricultural practices (fertilizer & pesticide use, storage, disposal, tillage practices, equipment calibration, irrigation)
  3. Environmental protection (protect natural vegetation & water courses, soil erosion, soil organic matter)
  4. Social sustainability (child labour, workers protection, labour condition, land rights, training, water rights)
  5. Greenhouse gas emissions on farm level.

Implementing this scheme has involved helping farmers to alter their growing practices for greater sustainability.

Vegware PLA bioplastic biodegradable compostable

PLA – which waste stream?

Vegware’s compostable catering disposables can biodegrade in under 12 weeks in commercial composting, which provides the perfect balance of microbes, moisture and warmth. Our Environmental team offer our clients unparalleled zero waste support – see point 2 in our Composting FAQ.

Where there is no access to industrial composting, used Vegware should be put in general waste. Vegware’s takeaway packaging is made from plants, not plastic, using lower carbon, renewable or recycled materials, and these sustainability benefits still apply no matter what happens to them after use.

  • Used Vegware should NOT be placed in standard recycling bins which collect paper, plastics and metals, as those materials go to a different type of sorting facility. Another reason is that food waste harms the quality of mechanical recycling – the same applies to any used foodservice disposables.
  • General waste goes to either incineration or landfill. If Vegware is incinerated, energy is produced. Incineration studies from NatureWorks, a key materials supplier of ours, show that their PLA bioplastic produces more heat than newspaper, wood or food waste; also that it produces no volatile gases and leaves little residue. Some in the waste sector prefer plant-based materials over conventional plastics as they give off fewer toxic gases.
  • In landfill, studies have shown that compostable packaging is inert and does not give off methane.
  • Please do not litter – compostable packaging is not expected to break down when discarded in the environment, and is not a solution to marine pollution.
  • Home composting conditions vary with the skill of the householder, so we don’t make any claims there, but there have been successful trials using hot compost bins.

Vegware PLA bioplastic biodegradable compostable plastic

PLA – not a threat to plastics recycling

Compared to conventional plastics, bioplastics currently represent a tiny fraction of packaging, so it is not currently economical to sort PLA from other waste streams. If there is a major increase in bioplastics volumes, then waste sorting facilities can be calibrated to recognise and sort bioplastics using near-infrared identification. As well as composting, PLA is suitable for mechanical recycling into new PLA, as practised by Looplife Polymers in Belgium.

Studies have shown that low levels of bioplastics do not harm plastics recycling. German and Italian researchers have found there was no reduction to quality, up to these levels:

  • Up to 3% PLA in post-consumer PP plastic recyclate (1)
  • Up to 10% PLA in PS plastic re-granulates (1)
  • Up to 1-2% PLA in recycled PET plastic short-spinning plant (2)
  • Up to 10% MaterBi in the recycling of PE plastic shopping bags (2)

This information comes from (1) the report PLA in the Waste Stream, a report initiated by the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture. And (2) from CONAI, the National Packaging Consortium of Italy: Working Group Biodegradable Packaging Recovery Project report, 2012.

We don’t encourage anyone to put PLA into plastics recycling, but these studies offer comfort to plastics reprocessors, who are understandably keen to maintain quality.

Composting Vegware disposables at the University of the West of England

A longtime client, the University of the West of England has been using our plant-based food service packaging as part of its Sustainability Plan for many years.

This year (2018), with our expansion into Bristol for Vegware’s Close the Loop composting collection service, the University is now turning its catering ‘waste’ into quality compost for Gloucestershire farmers.

Vegware catering disposables are commercially compostable with food waste. That means there’s no need for sorting, and the used compostable packaging – from cups and straws to takeaway boxes and cutlery – can all go together without removing the ketchup and leftover chips. An added bonus is that once food and disposables share one bin, other dry recycling bins are cleaner and easier to recycle.

With 30,000 students and 3,000 staff, closing the loop is making a difference to the University’s environmental footprint, while contributing to the circular economy.

The University’s Sustainable Projects Officer shares his thoughts here on implementing the new waste stream onto the site.

Vegware case study: Platform at Argyle Street Arches

Street food market solidifies sustainability by composting catering disposables

Argyle Street Arches is a historic venue in the atmospheric arches below Glasgow Central railway station. In 2018, the iconic UK site reopened to be given a new lease of life, and with it, a view to become the city’s greenest venue.

This includes offering Glaswegians a fiercely independent alternative to generic, mass produced foods by way of a new street food market: Platform at Argyle Street Arches. The indoor market brings together some of Scotland’s best independent street food traders every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with food available to sit-in or to-go.

From the outset, Platform’s mission has been to offer produce that is locally and sustainably sourced, seasonal, free range, and free trade. To complement this, they sought eco-friendly food and drink packaging, knowing that food contamination is a barrier to recycling conventional plastic single-use containers.

Keen to ensure the best waste solution for their catering disposables, Platform contacted Edinburgh-based Vegware.

Click here to read more and see the 5 steps Platform and Vegware took to create a sustainable street food market.

What’s 79-Series? A new easy way to match cups & lids!

At Vegware we want it to be easy to find the right size lid for your cup or soup container. We’ve got a new simple system. We have updated our product names to add a Series number for the lid fit, such as 69-Series, 89-Series, or 115-Series.

For example, you spot our new ‘8oz white embossed hot cup, 79-Series’. Then browsing the hot cup extras, you can see it fits these lids:

  • 79-Series CPLA hot cup lid
  • 79-Series CPLA hot cup lid, black

You’ll see our Series numbers in our hot and cold cups, soup containers and Bon Appetit bowls. To let you into a secret, the number is the lid’s diameter in millimetres.

Here’s a handy guide to our cup and lids. Enjoy!

Happy Birthday to us!

Today at Vegware it’s a double celebration as we celebrate the 4th of July and our first birthday in the US! It seems just like yesterday we opened our office in Huntington Beach.

Our first year has seen us add some new faces to our growing team and increase our supply of products across the country from coast to coast. Our Zero Waste Director, Julia has had a whirlwind year working closely with clients and composters to set up zero waste programs.

With a wide range of businesses now seeking plastic-free packaging alternatives, we’ve seen a surge of interest in our compostable solution and this has created some amazing opportunities for us.

Our solution is simple as our founder and CEO, Joe Frankel explains:

“You can’t recycle food with plastic in it, and you can’t recycle plastic with food on it. Moving to compostable catering disposables means that food and packaging waste can be recycled together. We believe compostables are the only true recycling solution for the category. That’s why we don’t make or sell anything that’s plastic.”

Just as the last year has flown by, we’re sure the next will follow suit. We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us in this time and look forward to seeing what the future has to hold!

Bon Appetit!

Meet our newest creation, the 32oz PLA-lined paper food bowl and PLA-Lined paper lid.

Joining our Bon Appetit range, this food bowl combo proves an excellent eco option for serving up delicious curries, colorful burrito bowls and more. Great for a wide range of cold and hot food.

With a top diameter of 7.3 inches, our Bon Appetit bowl offers a panoramic view of any delicious servings.

Both the bowl and lid feature Vegware’s Green Leaf band, a design which promotes your eco ethos and commitment to sustainability.

Another Vegware innovation, our bowl and lid are made from plants, not plastic and commercially compostable where facilities exist.

Available to order now, ask us for more information or samples over at us.info@vegware.com.

Barbecue season is here!

With a long-weekend ahead, it’s the unofficial start of summer and beach season, and our personal favorite, barbecue season!

Whether you call it BBQ, cookout or grill out, Vegware has the perfect compostable catering disposables for all your summer parties and events.

Bagasse tableware

Bagasse is a stylish eco alternative to styrofoam made from recycled sugarcane fibre. Suitable for hot and cold food and sturdier than paper plates.

Gourmet Range

Our elegant Gourmet Range is the first eco spill-proof solution for hot or cold food to go. A unique mix-and-match range of plastic-free lids and bases made from renewable, low-carbon materials. Each size has two depths of base and three lid styles, including our clear PLA lids.

Ice cream pots and spoons

Compostable food containers, in a variety of sizes to accommodate a single scoop or an ice cream sundae. Clear PLA domed and flat lids for cold food, and flat CPLA lids available for hot.

Complement with our award-winning cutlery range that includes these delightful ice cream spoons available in a candy colour mix of options!

As with all Vegware, these products are commercially compostable where accepted.

Happy Barbecuing!

International Compost Awareness Week 6-12th May Vegware’s guide to compostable packaging

To celebrate International Compost Awareness Week, we’ve put together this handy Vegware guide to our compostable packaging.

Why use compostable food packaging?
For disposables destined to meet food, it makes sense to use materials that can be recycled together with food. High-quality compost feeds the fields, to grow more food. Yum.

Why isn’t conventional packaging actually recycled?
Recyclables+Food = NOT RECYCLABLE. Used packaging is a mix of materials contaminated with food, and goes to incineration or landfill because it can’t be recycled.

Do plant-based materials work as well as plastic?
Yes, or even better! Bagasse (made from recycled sugarcane fibre) takeout boxes keep heat in but don’t trap condensation like plastic. No more soggy fries. Continue reading

We’re hiring! Inside Sales Representative

We’re on the look out for a talented and ambitious Inside Sales Representative to join our team in Huntington Beach.

The purpose of the role is a combination of customer care, operational support, developing new business and retaining existing business through sales activities. This will mean working with a wide range of clients, both B2C and B2B, ensuring that daily operations are taken care of, incoming enquiries are qualified and developed and cold calling campaigns are executed efficiently.

For more information of the key skills and responsibilities desired see our job advert on indeed.com. 

Join us at Natural Products Expo West

From the 8-10th of March we’ll be exhibiting at the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event, Natural Products Expo West.

Taking place at the Anaheim Convention Center, we’ll have new products to showcase and expert advice on custom branding and zero waste support. You can find us at Stand N1145.

We’d love to see you there! If you are interested in attending contact us or go to the Natural Products Expo West website.