The Complexities of PLA and its Environmental Impact

Alfred Tang

Hatched by Alfred Tang

Mar 05, 2024

3 min read


The Complexities of PLA and its Environmental Impact


In recent news, the use of PLA (polylactic acid), a type of biodegradable plastic, has been restricted in various locations. This decision has sparked debates and discussions about the true environmental impact of PLA. While it is marketed as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastics, there are several complexities that need to be considered when evaluating its sustainability. This article aims to delve deeper into the subject, exploring the CO2 conversion coefficient, the challenges faced in recycling PLA, and the overall environmental advantages it offers.

CO2 Conversion Coefficient and PLA:

To understand the environmental impact of PLA, it is important to examine its CO2 conversion coefficient. The basic weight of C2 in PLA is 70g/m2, with a CO2 emission of 0.0067 kg per sheet of A4 paper. This coefficient allows us to calculate the carbon footprint associated with PLA production and usage. Comparing this value to traditional plastics can provide valuable insights into the relative environmental friendliness of PLA.

Challenges in Recycling PLA:

One of the reasons behind the restricted use of PLA is the difficulty in recycling it effectively. When PLA is mixed with traditional plastics during the recycling process, it affects the properties of the resulting recycled plastic. This makes it challenging to create high-quality secondary plastics from PLA. Consequently, PLA often ends up in landfills or incinerators, contributing to environmental degradation. It is crucial to address this issue and develop efficient recycling methods to ensure the sustainable use of PLA.

The Benefits of PLA:

Despite the challenges in recycling, PLA does possess several advantages over traditional plastics. Its biodegradability and renewable sourcing make it a promising alternative, especially when compared to non-biodegradable plastics derived from fossil fuels. PLA is derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane, reducing the dependence on finite resources. Additionally, its biodegradability allows it to break down naturally, further reducing environmental harm.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Promote Separate Collection and Recycling: To overcome the challenges in recycling PLA, it is crucial to encourage separate collection systems that ensure proper disposal and recycling of PLA products. By keeping PLA separate from traditional plastics, the recycling process can be optimized, leading to higher-quality secondary plastics.
  • 2. Support Research and Development: Continued investment in research and development is essential to finding innovative solutions for recycling PLA. This includes exploring new technologies and methods that can efficiently process PLA and maintain its properties during the recycling process. Collaboration between academia, industry, and policymakers can drive progress in this area.
  • 3. Educate Consumers: Raising awareness among consumers about the environmental advantages of PLA and the importance of proper disposal is vital. Educating the public about the benefits of separate collection and recycling can encourage active participation and responsible consumption, leading to a more sustainable future.


The use of PLA as a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastics presents both opportunities and challenges. While its CO2 conversion coefficient and challenges in recycling are important considerations, the benefits of PLA, such as renewable sourcing and biodegradability, cannot be ignored. To ensure the sustainable use of PLA, it is crucial to address the difficulties in recycling, promote separate collection systems, invest in research and development, and educate consumers. By doing so, we can maximize the environmental advantages of PLA and contribute to a greener future.

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