The uses of polylactic acid cut across many different sectors, from medical to automotive and packaging. This includes applications that involve consumer end products, or applications that concern manufacturing companies. For more about the many ways that you can use polylactic acid bioplastic, check out our list of its key applications below.
Polylactic Acid Definition
What’s polylactic acid to begin with? Polylactic acid is a polymer, a polyester material to be specific, that’s typically derived from the fermentation of sugars obtained from nature. These materials include corn starch (most popular material), sugarcane molasses, cassava, and even agricultural waste.
So, despite its name, polylactic acid is actually a type of plastic. Because of its production from natural materials, it’s also environmentally friendly, requiring less energy to manufacture and releasing no harmful particles when used. In controlled conditions, it will also compost by breaking down into nontoxic compounds.
Another property that makes polylactic acid bioplastic useful is its favorable thermal characteristic; it melts at 150 to 160 degrees Celsius, a quality that makes it highly processable using different methods, such as extrusion and thermoforming or blow molding; not to forget its being biocompatible and a good choice for surgical implants.
Use of Polylactic Acid
As earlier mentioned, the uses of polylactic acid cover almost every sector. In packaging, you can use to make food containers, mostly owing to its being a non-toxic plastic. In the automotive industry, it makes a good material for interior components. In other words, the possibilities are many when using this type of material. The list below highlights nine key uses of polylactic acid today. They are:
1. Polylactic Acid Straws
PLA is, today, commonly being used to make straws. Polylactic acid straws are safe to use, seeing that they’re made from a bioplastic. That they will not leach toxins into drinks as other plastics would.
PLA straws will also easily degrade or compost after use, although that requires the right compositing procedures; it typically involves having to maintain high temperatures over the entire composting period.
Polylactic acid straws are versatile product that you can use in a hotel, at parties, weddings, and other places or occasions, or basically anywhere where single-use but eco-friendly straws are required.
2. Polylactic Acid Bottles
In the beverage industry, polylactic acid bottles are being used to hold drinking water, carbonated drinks, and juices or similar products. Being compostable, these bottles are easily disposed of, without harming the environment.
More importantly, PLA bottles are non-toxic and suited for beverage packaging than many other plastics. They are also easy to manufacture given the high usability features of polylactic acid.
3. Polylactic Acid Tea Bags
One of the many uses of polylactic acid is in the manufacture of tea bags. Polylactic acid tea bags are safe and will not introduce harmful chemicals into tea, even when subjected to heat.
Biodegradable PLA teabags replace traditional plastics such as polypropylene, which release may release non-biodegrading micro-particles. This not only makes the bags safer health-wise, but is also a great option for businesses that intend to use green products.
4. Polylactic Acid Bags
With businesses and even entire countries shifting their focus toward eco-friendly products, the use of polylactic acid bags is becoming more and more common. These bags are made from polylactic acid film, thin and with other qualities such as being dustproof.
Polylactic acid bags are also easier and safer compost than traditional plastic bags, in addition to having less environmental impact to make. So they present an attractive alternative to conventional plastic bags.
5. Polylactic Acid Cups
In the catering industry, one of the most common uses of polylactic acid is seen in cups for holding yoghurt, salads, juices, wine and beer, smoothies, etc. These are bioplastic cups and mostly meant for single-use applications.
PLA cups, while not suited for very hot liquids due to deformation, are safe for the environment and won’t add to the waste menace if properly composted. You can also make in many styles and sizes, with lids or without, and many other options—just as you would with other plastics.
6. Polylactic Acid Fabric
Polylactic acid fabric is made purely from PLA fibers, or it may be PLA blended with other polymers or even cotton and wool. On its own, PLA fabric presents a green way of making textiles, and may be used for disposable clothes such as medical gowns.
Polylactic fabric can be gotten rid of safely at the end of its life, usually at a composting facility or using other means. These fabrics are also comfortable to wear and well suited for undergarments, especially given their ability to control moisture.
7. Polylactic Acid Implants
The uses of polylactic acid in the medical field are wide and varied. This is due to its compatibility with human body tissue, among other benefits such ability to biodegrade over time, non-toxic nature, and good manufacturability qualities.
In these applications, PLA sutures and other products such as bone repair screws, stents, and others are inserted in the body as part of the treatment process. Polylactic acid uses in medical implants include both short and long-term types.
8. Polylactic Acid Filament
The uses of polylactic acid in the 3D printing industry involve processing it into filaments. These are long plastic filaments held on a spool and only a few millimeters in diameter, and that are used to 3D print parts.
Polylactic acid filament is a biodegradable raw material for 3D printing applications that also exhibits other favorable properties such as extrusion capabilities and layer adhesion qualities.
It softens upon reaching 50° C and bonds at 180 to 190°C to create high-strength 3D printed products. It also resists both warping and shrinking, which is desirable when printing parts. Additionally, PLA filament is available in many different colors.
9. Polylactic Acid Facial Filler
Polylactic acid is injected into the skin of the facial muscles. This is usually done to restore lost features due to wrinkles and other imperfections. In addition to adding volume, the facial filler helps with collagen secretion by the body.
Polylactic acid facial filler is only one of the many benefits of the plastic in healthcare. Other PLA uses in the medical field include making of surgical pats for the repair of both bone and tissue damage, as earlier indicated.
There are many uses of polylactic acid today, thanks to its many good sides. These qualities include biodegradability, eco-friendliness, and biocompatibility. Others are compostability and processing ease. That said, it’s good to note that PLA may not suit some application conditions, such as high heat applications, and an understanding of its properties is an essential considerations before using it.