Just One Word: Corn
By Bridget Finn

(Business 2.0) – If plastics was once the future, corn is now the future of plastics. NatureWorks, a subsidiary of agricultural giant Cargill, has pioneered a cheap way to turn the crop into a substance that's well suited to the demands of packaging. Called polylactic acid, or PLA, it's completely biodegradable, a huge selling point when compared with its virtually indestructible petrochemical-based cousin. "We're predicting rapid growth for biodegradable plastics," says Bill Weizer, an analyst at the Freedonia Group. Food and beverage companies have already begun packing a few products in PLA, with many more to come. Biota started shipping springwater in corn-plastic bottles in October, while Del Monte, Newman's Own Organic, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats are all now wrapping fresh foods in PLA. The material couldn't have arrived at a better time. Over the past year, skyrocketing oil prices have driven the cost of traditional plastics up 40 percent, while PLA's market price sank 65 percent during the past 18 months. BASF, DuPont, and Mitsubishi Chemical are also getting into the PLA game, and the market is expected to increase 25 percent annually in the United States through 2008. -- BRIDGET FINN