What is PLA

What is PLA?

Poly(lactic acid) or polylactic acid or polylactide (PLA) is a biodegradable and bioactive thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable biomass, typically from fermented plant starch such as from corncassavasugarcane or sugar beet pulp. In 2010, PLA had the second highest consumption volume of any bioplastic of the world.

The name "polylactic acid" does not comply with IUPAC standard nomenclature, and is potentially ambiguous or confusing, because PLA is not a polyacid (polyelectrolyte), but rather a polyester.


Currently, the SPI resin identification code 7 ("others") is applicable for PLA. In Belgium, Galactic started the first pilot unit to chemically recycle PLA (Loopla). Unlike mechanical recycling, waste material can hold various contaminants. Polylactic acid can be recycled to monomer by thermal depolymerization or hydrolysis. When purified, the monomer can be used for the manufacturing of virgin PLA with no loss of original properties (cradle-to-cradle recycling).


Amycolatopsis and Saccharotrix are able to degrade PLA. A purified protease from Amycolatopsis sp., PLA depolymerase, can also degrade PLA. Enzymes such as pronase and most effectively proteinase K from Tritirachium albumdegrade PLA.

Pure PLA foams undergo selective hydrolysis when placed in an environment of Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium (DMEM) supplemented with fetal bovine serum (FBS) (a solution mimicking body fluid). After 30 days of submersion in DMEM+FBS, a PLLA scaffold lost about 20% of its weight.

PLA samples of varying molecular weight were degraded into methyllactate (a green solvent) by using a metal complex catalyst.