July 13, 2008

Corn cups for iced coffee

At a neighborhood coffee shop in Lincoln yesterday, I was surprised not by the iced coffee but what it was served in -- a corn-based plastic cup. According to the baristas, the straw was made of corn, too. They were very enthusiastic about the cups. The shop -- The Cup (25th and Randolph) is in an old Pepsi bottling building and has a good atmosphere if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Plastic cups at The Cup are made from PLA -- which is made from corn at a plant in Blair, Nebraska. The Natureworks plant churns out tons of the little corn-plastic BBs every day and ships them all over the world. They're turned into cups, deli containers, gift cards, fiber for clothes and decorative items, plastic wrap and a lot more.

Another company making unique things from corn is DuPont, which now makes its Sorona polymer from corn instead of petroleum. Although DuPont's polymer can be used for plastics, a great deal of focus is on carpet and fabrics. There's also the ADM-Metabolix joint effort, which is building a plant in Iowa to convert corn to plastic resin known as Mirel.

All of these efforts -- and more -- allow every day plastic items and fabrics that were traditionally made from petroleum to instead be made from a renewable resource. In this case, America's top crop: corn.

Other items made that use corn? Crayons, toothpaste, paint, aspirin, batteries, adhesives, paper, lubricants and hundreds of other items. The Nebraska Corn Board produced a brochure a year ago that highlights all of these and the many other uses of corn. To have a look, click here to download the .pdf file.

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