Where is the Plant Base Sourced From?

Posted by Robert Bowerman on

Question: “Could you tell me if where the plant base is sourced from?  And do you know if it is GM free?  If so can this be guaranteed?”


Summary: Bioaware plastic-free food containers are made from the simple molecule polylactic acid (PLA) which comes from lactic acid C3O3H6, an even simpler liquid akin to water or alcohol (see pictures below).  While lactic acid is naturally in your body and in many foods, PLA is not a food and is not ingested into the body.  Our PLA is certified to contain no genetic material and to contain no modified genetic material.  Our supplier, Natureworks, uses Geniscan to guarantee “No GM Material in Ingeo” which is their brand name for PLA, see image and link below.  We have been working with PLA since 2015 in our passion of helping rid the world of the toxins and waste that come with petroleum-based plastics.  When foods are stored in plastic there is inevitable leaching of the toxins in plastics, such as bisphenol A into the food -  triggering many health problems such as food allergies, asthma and hyperactivity.  Our vision is to harness this innovative material PLA, that is acknowledged as a highly promising key for humanity, to help us move beyond petroleum and the toxins it places in our foods.  Our business plan includes making organic polylactic acid in Gloucestershire, which will categorically be GM free and involve an ethical transparent supply chain, for use by ourselves and resale to others. 



Detail: Bioaware makes food containers from polylactic acid (PLA).  PLA is formed by joining many molecules of lactic acid together in long chains, known as polymers.  Making the chains is just a matter of taking water out.  Biodegradation of PLA is the the reverse process  putting water back in -- normally accomplished by microbes.  Microbes also perform the step of making lactic acid from starches - a form of fermentation.  Lactic acid is an extremely natural molecule.  Lactic acid exists in your blood when you exercise and can make your muscles ache. Fermentation, as a way of creating healthy food products involving lactic acid, is widespread globally - with examples being miso, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and certain wines.  Lactic acid is a simple molecule (with a simplicity akin to alcohol or water) made of three carbon atoms, three oxygens and three hydrogens.   It is important to understand that PLA contains no genetic material, so no molecules of DNA or RNA, and is certified as such by our manufacturer Natureworks



Our partner in Holland, Real Filament, produces PLA filament for us from granules of PLA they import from Natureworks in Nebraska, USA.  Real Filament has provided us assurances that their product is food safe.   All of our manufacturing tools and processes preserve that purity and cleanliness and likewise food safety.  Natureworks is the world’s largest and most respected manufacturer of PLA and provides the certification of no genetic material being present in the product.  They make it out of the edible part of sweetcorn.  As there is no genetic material present in PLA there can therefore be no modified genetic material present.  The PLA we use is thus long chains of a simple colourless liquid found in blood and soil, without any DNA or impurities. 

Real Filament also adds pigment or colour to some of the PLA filament they make.   They use only European Union standard food safe pigments, like approved cake colourings.   In addition to coloured PLA, they also provide colourless unpigmented PLA, which we call “pearl” coloured.  Others call it transparent, neutral or colourless (but not white).  Customers who like to live with 100% purity tend to opt for pearl containers.  From a purely aesthetic perspective the pearl is particularly beautiful in the way it catches the light and we understand that is why it is our best seller.  Lids can be mix and match to introduce highlights of colour.


We have also imported PLA from including China and elsewhere globally, subjecting it to evaluation (but not sale!).  Furthermore we have evaluated and communicated with the makers of PLA globally learning that many of them are in only early set up stages.  We can conclude and confirm that NatureworksPLA is the best available, the state of the art.  To repeat, the key point is that because it  is certified to have no genetic material in it, it is therefore guaranteed free of modified genetic material.  Furthermore, we have learned that what is in the other sources, such as from China, is far less well defined both in terms of content and supply chain ethics.  We have also found no one globally making organic PLA and no one making PLA in the UK. Hence why we are importing from the best source available at present



To round out this discussion, we recognise that Natureworks may use genetically modified sweetcorn as part of the feedstock that is input to  the fermentation process.  Natureworks does offer a grade of PLA material that is certified as having fermentation feedstock definitely derived from plants which have not had their genetic material modified.  Real Filament (nor any other filament supplier) does not yet offer this grade, so we cannot buy filament made from it.   It has been argued that this grade is a contradiction of terms [X is pure X containing only X and contains no Y, hence it is self apparent it contains no modified Y] and as such does not have any meaningful value as certification, akin to selling non-GM water.  It should be appreciated that the molecular structure of genetic material is vastly more complex and totally different from PLA, see image below. 



A second argument that should be considered here is that the debate around genetically modified organisms (GMO) invariably applies to food, to things we eat.  The containers that Bioaware makes are not food, they are not ingested.   If the rules of avoiding GM in food were extended to our containers then the rules should likewise be extended to all aspects of kitchen and dining room that touch or border on food.  Chopping boards and knife handles, for example, could not simply be made of wood or sustainable wood, but rather would have to be non-GM wood.  Paper packets would have to be non-GM.  To avoid toxins in the kitchen the research points to avoiding plastics as the key, particularly those containing BPA or its substitutes — and so that is where we are providing a toxin free solution. 


To conclude on GM, an important point about GM foods is that while quite a body of short term research has been done there simply has not been the elapsed time to allow long term impact assessment of side effects.  The most important issues facing our society have exactly the same well spring.  Climate change is a long term side effect of petroleum usage.  The environmental crisis is primarily a long term side effect of pesticides and herbicides.  The health implications of the long term use of plastic and the toxins in plastic are only now beginning to become apparent and be understood.  The medication Thalidomide was an early case study where long term impact assessments of complex interventions were not understood.  


Lastly, we share that making organic polylactic acid (PLA) in Gloucestershire is firmly in our business plan. It will also be non-GM.  It will be ethically and transparently sourced.  Its will be local.  Our emphasis is and will be to ensure that no pesticides or other agricultural chemicals can find their way into our products.  We have had early stage discussions with local organic farmers.  Although starting with sugar beet would be a logical origin, we have learned that carrots are better suited to the Gloucestershire soil.  In roughly a year we will be seeking to contract with local organic farmers for appropriate feedstock.