Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer and grocery seller, will begin substituting 114 million clear-plastic clamshell containers made from polylactic acid (PLA) on Nov. 1, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. PLA is a polymer derived from lactic acid, which NatureWorks derives from cornstarch. Wal-Mart will also use PLA to make its gift cards and calling cards.
"This is a huge jump into the consumer market for PLA," says Nathan Fields, director of research and business development for the National Corn Growers Association. "It indicates that retailers are beginning to see the advantages of corn-based products, which are domestically produced and better for the environment."
"With this change to packaging made from corn, we will save the equivalent of 800,000 gallons of gasoline and reduce more than 11 million pounds of greenhouse gas emission," says Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart vice president for product development and private brands for the company's Sam's Club division, at the Sustainable Packaging Forum in Philadelphia last week. "This is a way to make a change, positive for the environment and for business."
"It's exciting to see Wal-Mart is going to use PLA for new applications, such as the gift cards and calling cards," Fields says. "It's clear that Wal-Mart is seeking price stability through U.S. agriculture."
The company will use PLA packaging in its 3,779 Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Neighborhood Market stores.
"Wal-Mart is using PLA to reduce waste and garbage costs, just like Network Associates Coliseum, home of the Oakland A's and Raiders in Oakland, Calif., which has also switched some of its packaging to PLA," Fields says.
PLA is produced by NatureWorks, a division of Cargill. The product is composted easily and is recyclable. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, containers and packaging accounted for 32% of municipal solid wastes by weight in 2003.