Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

A Bioplastic Goes Commercial

Making biodegradable plastic bags.

The image at left shows genetically engineered bacteria that consume corn sugar and produce a polyester that can be used to make biodegradable plastics, including the types used in shopping bags. (The polyester–called polyhydroxyalkanoate, or PHA–is visible inside the bloated cells.) After years of research and development, the bacteria are almost ready for use on the commercial scale. In a joint venture with ­Metabolix of Cambridge, MA, which makes the microbes, Archer Daniels Midland is building a plant adjacent to its corn mill in Clinton, IA, that will use them to generate 110 million pounds of PHA annually. The new plant will produce more than 300 times as much PHA as an existing ­Metabolix pilot plant. “We’ll reduce greenhouse­-gas emissions by about two-thirds and petroleum usage by about 80 percent compared to traditional petroleum­-based plastics,” says ­Metabolix vice president Brian Igoe. And bags made from Metabolix’s polymer will degrade even if they drift into wetlands or the ocean. The compound will cost three times as much as petroleum-based polymers. Peter Fairley

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.