Georgia state parks using eco-friendly corn-based plastic

LAWRENCEVILLE - Besides eating it on the cob, vehicle ethanol isn't the only thing corn is being used for these days.

At a few Georgia state parks and lodges, you needn't look farther than the plastic cup in one hand or the plastic eating utensils in the other. But it's not normal plastic these folks are holding, it's corn-based plastic. And unlike its made-from-petroleum look-a-like that clogs landfills and costs money to recycle, corn-based plastic or polylactide is 100 percent biodegradable, compostable and made from renewable resources.

"It's a fairly new technology that is rapidly growing, changing and starting to catch on" said Steve Kurowski, a spokesman for the Boulder, Colo.-based Eco-Products. "And people get pretty excited about it when they see it."

Kurowski said the products are made through a technology developed by Nature Works LLC and are derived from fermented corn starch. After use, they completely biodegrade in 30 to 45 days when composted, or as Kurowski said, "when they're returned to where they came from."

Besides the knives, spoons, forks and cups, the company also offers cleaning products, PLA straws and sugar cane-based paper plates and napkins. Not yet available in retail stores, the company is using distributors to get its products out there and into use. Two nearby clients are Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge in Dawsonville and Unicoi State Park & Lodge in Helen.

James Hamilton, a regional manager with the Department of Natural Resources, said anything the state can do to reduce landfill waste helps.

Hamilton said he remembers when shampoo and soap dispensers were installed at the Amicalola Falls Lodge about five years ago. He said prior to that, the park gave visitors plastic bottles and individual soap bars. He said the switch greatly reduced the amount of waste transported to landfills or recycling centers. He said the new corn-based products are especially helpful for this reason in the more remote state parks where recycling facilities or landfills aren't nearby.