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January 2012
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Play with Your Food
Eco-friendly, veggie-based products

Your mother may have told you not to play with your vegetables, but if she had known you could build an entire car out of them, perhaps she would have reconsidered her stance. Vegetable-based products are certainly not new; however, with green technology stepping up its game, these products are better and more decomposable than ever.
If you’re looking to replace plastic and Styrofoam with a more environmentally conscious option, try corn. Well, not on the cob, of course, but PLA, or poly-lactic acid, a decomposable plastic made from corn. PLA is made by converting corn into starch and then converting that starch into sugar. Microorganisms are then used to turn the sugar into poly-lactic acid, at which point the PLA is mixed with different starches and formed into Styrofoam-like food containers, cups and even “plastic” bags. PLA is freezer safe, allergen free and, best of all, compostable in just 30 to 45 days. Mike Centers, Executive Director of Biocor, a post-consumer products company, states, “Greater sustainability in plastic packaging depends on decreasing the carbon footprint of the plastics used and on recapturing and reusing a greater percentage of post-consumer packaging. Plastics made from renewable plant sources such as PLA, which is 100 percent bio-based, offer a means to achieve these goals.”
Similarly, potatoes can be synthesized into plastic-like materials as well. The process for creating Plant Starch Material (PSM), as it is known, starts much like making your favorite mashed potato recipe. Manufacturers start by washing, slicing and smashing the potatoes into a slurry of sorts. They then take that substance and separate it, dry it and cook the starch down, rendering it rigid and thus strong enough to create things like plates, forks, knives and spoons. PSM is better able to tolerate heat, but it does take longer than PLA, 90 to 120 days in a commercial composting facility, to break down. Interestingly, there is some waste produced when manufacturers are processing the potatoes. However, the pulpy side product is given to pig farmers to use as feed, thus rendering PSM an entirely green product.
Looking to green up your office? Start by using soy- or vegetable-based inks in your printer cartridges. These inks, while still not 100 percent biodegradable, are superior to those that are petroleum based. In a biodegradability study, researchers at the American Oil Chemists’ Society found that soy ink degrades four times more completely than the ink in more traditional ink cartridges. Although these inks are not ideal for home printers (partly because they take longer to dry), larger scale commercial printers will actually find that soy ink delivers sharper images and more vibrant color.
And now for the pièce de résistance:Dr. Kerry Kirwan, a researcher at Warwick Manufacturing Group, and Ben King, a student at Warwick University, combined forces to create the Eco One, a one-seat sports car made almost entirely of vegetable products. Ninety-five percent of the materials used to build Eco One are biodegradable or recyclable including potatoes, cashew shells, rape seed oil and hemp. Eco One even runs on wheat and sugar beets. The steering wheel, seat, electrics and chassis are made from conventional materials, accounting for the five percent non-recyclable elements. The $41,000 sports car can hit speeds of up to 150 mph.
Vegetable-based products are great renewable resources that can benefit the environment and your quality of life. By making the switch to one vegetable-based product a month – cleaning supplies, cosmetics, storage containers and even water bottles are all good places to start – we can significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption.

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