Polylactic acid (PLA) is a polymer derived from starchy plants such as corn. To make PLA, corn kernels are milled and dextrose is extracted and fermented, producing lactic acid as a by-product. This lactic acid is then refined and used to produce raw PLA pellets. PLA is presumed to be biodegradable, although the role of hydrolysis vs. enzymatic depolymerization in this process remains open to debate. Composting conditions capable of degrading PLA are found only in industrial composting facilities where high temperature (above 140F), high relative humidity (RH), and a 2/3 mixture of organic food-based materials can be controlled in order to supply the necessary nutrients that promote chain hydrolysis. This is required to break down the polymer structure before microbial activity can break down the remaining material.
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