Axel Barrett Packaging PLA Trends

The Uncertain Future of PLA (FREE)

The future of PLA is not written in stone and it seems that unfavourable trends will impact its future growth prospects in Europe. This is a FREE article.

PLA Producers

We have 3 big “Western” PLA producers.

Why am I saying Western? Well, there might be some Chinese players I’ve never heard of. Chinese have a particular way of marketing their stuff. Very greedy, a bit like the Dutch. And companies who don’t invest in marketing always get a unfavorable public opinion as they’re perceived as cheap and thus of lower quality.

  • NatureWorks is a joint venture between Cargill and PTT. Cargill is probably the world’s largest slaughterhouse company and PTT is a state-owned oil company from Thailand. I’ve always been told that … who’s involved in the “animal-killing” industry, has blood on their hands. Cargill is also a big trader in “grain and oilseeds” and received a lot of subsidies for the production of corn. Naturally, they tried to find additional revenue stream for corn …. so they invented or developed PLA more than 30 years ago. Natureworks has one production site in the US, making PLA from corn.
  • TotalEnergies Corbion is a joint venture between TotalEnergies and Corbion. TotalEnergies is an “oil major” formerly known as “Total Elf Fina”. I will spare you the details on the number of corruption scandals that company has been involved in. Corbion is a sugar company and the sugar industry is trying to find new revenue streams for sugar. Sugar is highly addictive and has been causing obesity and diabetes all over the world. People are trying to limit their sugar intake so the sugar industry is trying to look for new revenue streams. The EU sugar policy has been the first visible crack in the EU CAP. It has shown that some EU policies were not intended to serve the environment or the collective well being …. but merely corporate profits…. profits for a handful of very powerful and rich families. The sugar industry is owned by extremely rich and powerful families. So whenever, EU grants are given to the sugar industry, I always find it very suspicious and highly “feudal”.
  • Futerro: A Belgian company who set up a production plant in China. Futerro is connected to the Belgian sugar families.

PLA Ownership

So basically, the current PLA production capacity is owned by oil companies, the sugar industry and the slaughterhouse business. Not really circular or in tune with the current zeitgeist. Go and tell to your vegan customers that your packaging was made by Cargill.

Recent Developments

  • TotalEnergies Corbion

TotalEnergies Corbion was the second industrial player to enter the PLA dance after NatureWorks. They built a plant in Thailand a few years ago where they started to convert sugar cane into PLA.

TotalEnergies Corbion was supposed to build a second PLA plant in France; however Corbion announced recently that they will step out and not follow through with this project…. leaving TotalEnergies alone on this journey. This announcement is the news of the year. Corbion didn’t give any official reason. However, from what I’ve heard and understood they have serious doubts about the future of PLA.

  • Taiwan Ban

Taiwan has recently announced that tableware made from PLA will be banned as the “industrial composters” do not want it and PLA is not recyclable (Taiwan Bans PLA tableware). It’s not the first nor the last ban PLA will face.

  • France Citeo

The French organisation CITEO who’s responsible for “packaging” has recently announced that it is realistic to see a ban on PLA packaging by 2030 because there’s no adequate end-of-life option for PLA in France.


PLA has a limited application scope.

It’s used in medical applications such as prosthesis because PLA degrades to lactic acid which your body can process.

Domestic (Hobby) 3D Printing is another avenue for PLA. However, this application is not really a breakthrough. Nobody really has a 3D hobby printer at home and if we were going to use domestic or community owned 3D printers for more “business” related applications, PLA wouldn’t be the chosen resin as it’s too unstable as an end product and not solid enough.

Packaging – tableware, cutlery, plates, cups, etc. Well, the EU single use plastic ban will encourage the use of reusable or refillable tableware and cups which won’t be made out of PLA … because PLA is a compostable plastic.

The “Marketing of PLA” was too focussed on the packaging side … and too much on the compostable plastic packaging side. PLA is too much associated with “compostability” now. It may end up to be a liability. TotaleEnergies Corbion should have learned from the mistakes of NatureWorks but they didn’t.


The end-of-life options of PLA are a bit limited as Industrial composters do not want it because it doesn’t really degrade and it doesn’t really add nutritional value to the “composting process”.

In other words: You don’t really use PLA to create compost; the compostable plastic industry advises you to throw it on your compost heap … to make it disappear.

I wish life would be as easy as that … throw your problems on the compost heap to make them disappear.

Home Composting

The home compostable “thingy” invented by PLA companies is close to being a farce. Who does home composting anyway? If industrial composters cannot process PLA packaging, don’t expect your garden compost heap to process it.

The french recycling company, Carbios, known for its advanced or biological recycling process owns a startup called “Carbiolice” that makes home compostable additives for PLA. It took them some years to come up with this idea of “home compostable yoghurt pots” …. and when they did, it was a commercial disasters…. the whole business model collapsed in 12 hours.

The biggest producers of yoghurt were particularly interested in my opinion on Carbiolice and PLA.

Insights & Intelligence

I’m receiving more and more phone calls from “data, insights and intelligence” companies who have to report on PLA to their high-end customers. We’re talking about Wall Street, City of London and Fortune 500 and I can tell you … they’re having serious doubts about PLA. A lot of uncertainties.

I think PLA is on the “edge of the cliff” because … it’s a kind of “stranded assets” risk to invest in plastic that doesn’t have a real end-of-life option, and that …(some) modern investors seem to be aware of.

We know that PLA companies have been driving the “anti-oxo cabal” with expensive lobbyists, while maybe they should have concentrated their ressources on other goals and means.

NatureWorks vs TotalEnergies Corbion

What is the difference between NatureWorks and TotalEnergies Corbion? I was told the following by customers:

NatureWorks’ PLA is of better quality than TotalEnergies Corbion’s PLA, but the customer service (commercial attitude) is better or less worse at TotalEnergies Corbion.

It seems as if the people at NatureWorks have given up on their business. Like they don’t want to make any efforts anymore. It’s like: leave me alone , like a corporate hangover… Funnily enough, the previous NatureWorks’ CEO was Belgian and it seems as if NatureWorks was build upon the Belgian customer service motto: You’re guilty of being our customer.

They hired a new CEO a few years ago, but I think it went from bad to worse. Once a proud startup, NatureWorks is now an established oil-tanker, dinosaurus slaughterhouse spin off.

Future Investment Advise

If you’re a small business owner and you plan on investing your home savings into setting up a PLA start up, be very cautious … think twice.

Companies like NatureWorks and TotalEnergies Corbion are using PLA to position themselves as “responsible” companies but they make their money from other business. They don’t need PLA to be profitable.

Circular Management Advise

What should someone who was appointed CEO of a company like NatureWorks should have done.

When you’re new in such a management role (CEO), there’s principle that’s important: don’t inherit the political bullshit of your predecessors. Cut the crap immediately. Don’t fight another man’s battle. Solve another man’s problems.

You need to ask your directors or VPs that all “bullshit” and “problems” your company has or is involved with be reported to you. And when I say “all”, I mean “ALL”.

And if all the bullshit doesn’t reach the table, then you know that someone is disconnected from the “field” reality or is lying to you. And that tells you enough about that person.

It’s not only important to know about the bullshit but it’s as important to know how you got there and how you’re going to solve it.

Was the company or it’s employees involved in any shady business practice involving the company?

What was acceptable in the 80s and 90 s is not acceptable anymore. You need to stand strong on your corporate values.

You need to make apologise and to compensate for your past corporate bullshit.

And if you’re lucky to find influencers or bloggers in your industry, you roll out the red carpet instead of ostracising them because eventually the truth will always come out. And if your marketing people didn’t told you this, well then you have the wrong people in place…. anno 2023.

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