Is cornstarch biodegradable? (5 applications) 

This article will detail the biodegradability of cornstarch. Other covered aspects will be: 

  • What is corn starch?
  • What is the chemical composition of cornstarch?
  • How is cornstarch made?
  • What are some contemporary applications of cornstarch?
  • What is the biodegradability status of cornstarch?
  • Can cornstarch be composted?
  • FAQs

Is cornstarch biodegradable?

Cornstarch is biodegradable because it is made from natural, plant-based materials. The products derived from cornstarch may degrade in about 90 to 180 days.

Biodegradation is the breakdown of waste into simpler materials by the action of microbes. Cornstarch has a lot of applications in the food industry. However, it also can be used to make bioplastics. 

Other than being biodegradable, cornstarch can also be recycled and composted. Compost can be used as a natural fertiliser that can undo the effects of synthetic fertilisers. 

What is corn starch? (5 applications) 

The article will commence with an introduction to what is cornstarch. This will lead to a better understanding of the environmental impacts that are rendered by cornstarch. 

It will also lead us to build a strong stance on the biodegradability of cornstarch. These filters are important because if a product or material is biodegradable, then there will be decreased effects of such materials on the environment. 

However, if a material is not biodegradable, then it will remain in the environment for hundreds of years. This will lead to the decapacitation of waste management systems while also rendering negative effects on life and the environment. 

Cornstarch can be explained as a plant-based product. It is also referred to as corn flour or maize starch. However, there are some subtle differences between cornstarch and corn flour. While corn flour is mostly yellow in colour, corn starch is a white powder that is obtained or extracted from corn kernels. 

Corn starch can be explained as a starch that is derived from the maize plant. Therefore, corn starch is referred to as a plant-based product. It is white in colour. 

Corn starch is mostly made up of chemicals such as amylose and amylopectin. Upon further investigation, it is seen that amylopectin constitutes more than two-thirds of cornstarch while the former constitutes around one-third. 

As per the application of corn starch, it is mostly used for the following purposes: 

  • Thickening of food products
  • Emulsification of fats or proteins
  • Use in strong adhesive films
  • Applications of paper coating
  • Applications in the corrugated board manufacturing 

These applications stem from the fact that when cornstarch is mixed with water, it forms into a gel or paste. This may be termed the gelatinisation process. 

This process happens when starch molecules combine with individual water molecules leading to the formation of gel or paste.

What is the chemical composition of cornstarch?

This part of the article will expand on the chemical composition of cornstarch. Cornstarch is made from two major constituents. These include: 

  • Amylose and 
  • Amylopectin 

From the chemical analyses, it is unveiled that amylopectin is present in around 73% whereas amylose is present in about 20% concentration. 

Since cornstarch is a food product, it ought to have nutritional content as well. In that regard, the composition of cornstarch can be expanded into: 

  • Carbohydrates
  • Vitamins 
  • Iron 
  • Potassium 

If we compare the nutritional content of cornstarch with that of corn flour, it is seen that corn flour takes the win because it also contains proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fibres. 

How is cornstarch made?

This part of the article will expand on the production process that is usually followed to make corn starch. The production process can be segregated into some steps. These include:

  • Corn cleaning and steeping
  • Milling & drying
  • Fibre washing
  • Starch and gluten washing
  • Gluten dewatering
  • Starch dewatering & drying

The first step in the production of cornstarch involves the cleaning of corn. This is done to separate the corn from all sorts of impurities. This has two major applications. 

One is that by washing, the impurities will be removed. This will lead to a more efficient process because impurities could obstruct the cornstarch-making process. Another reason why cornstarch is washed is to weaken the gluten bonds so that starch may be released. 

This process is followed by milling and drying. This is mainly done so that germ may be separated from the fibre, starch and gluten. This process is done at the expense of mechanical machinery. This may include hydro cyclones and germ separator discs. 

This is followed by the next step of further rigorous milling. This is done so that the harder parts of the corn may be ground. This results in the removal of starch in a rather absolute manner. 

The next step is the employment of flow difference to achieve starch and gluten separation. What happens is that starch leaves the system as underflow whereas gluten leaves the separator as overflow. 

The last two steps are the dewatering and the drying of gluten and starch. This is done at the expense of machineries such as disc separators, nozzle separators, and centrifugal decanters. This machinery is employed to dewater and dry starch and gluten to achieve the final, pure products. 

What are some contemporary applications of cornstarch?

Other than the trivial or conventional applications of cornstarch, there are also some contemporary applications of cornstarch. 

One of the most prominent applications of cornstarch in this regard is the creation of bioplastics. Bioplastics are made from plant-based materials such as corn starch, sugarcane, sugar beets, mushrooms et cetera.

DNA plastics are made from DNA or biosources such as salmon sperm cells. 

These plastics are made from natural sources and are often renewable. Therefore, there are very minimal impacts of such plastics on health and the environment. 

Plastics made from DNA come along with a number of environmental and social benefits. These are: 

  • Bioplastic takes up very less amount of energy to make
  • Bioplastic does not depend on fossil fuel derivatives
  • Bioplastic can easily be degraded by enzymes
  • Bioplastic can also be recycled with great efficiency 
  • Bioplastic does not add to waste generation and accumulation
  • Bioplastic is made from bio-renewable resources
  • Bioplastic may lead to 97% fewer carbon emissions

These are some of the reasons why it is so important to go for biodegradable and bio-renewable resources of plastics because the current waste generation caused by plastics is already beyond 90 million tons. 

Other than the issue of waste generation, conventional plastic leads to a fervent amount of carbon emissions which can be reduced by opting for natural sources instead of depending on fossil fuel derivatives. 

These bioplastics may be used for a number of applications such as the making of plastic cups et cetera. Since there are natural and biological materials involved, there are no known side effects of bioplastics.

What is the biodegradability status of cornstarch?

Biodegradability can be defined as a process in which biological agents such as enzymes and microbes break down complex waste into simpler structures. The simpler structures are thus able to get back to the system. 

Every day you come across the process of biodegradation. The rotten vegetables that you dispose of or the spoiled fruits that you think can not be eaten. These are common, everyday examples of biodegradation. 

It is the very process of biodegradation that is responsible for the spoilage of food. It can be termed the necessary evil because on one side food is spoiled but on the other side, it is ensured that there is no waste accumulation. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be environmental problems and anomalies because the waste will lead to problems such as pollution and human diseases. 

Other than microbes and enzymes, there are also external factors that play a key role in the process of biodegradation. These include:

  • Sunlight 
  • Temperature
  • Aeration
  • Presence or absence of oxygen 
  • Type of microbes

Based on biodegradability, waste may be divided into two categories. These are 

  • Biodegradable waste
  • Non-biodegradable waste 

Examples of biodegradable waste include crops, plants, dead animals, manure, sewage, bioplastics, and natural fabrics. These may degrade in some days or some months. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include synthetic plastics, epoxies, synthetic dyes, and synthetic fabrics like acrylic fabrics. These substances may remain in landfills for hundreds of years. 

For example, synthetic plastics may degrade in more than a thousand years while also causing other environmental problems such as global warming, weather anomalies et cetera. 

Cornstarch is a plant-based product and therefore, it can very aptly be postulated that cornstarch is completely biodegradable. While cornstarch may degrade in several months, the products derived from cornstarch are known to take around 90 to 180 days to break down. 

Can cornstarch be composted?

Composting can be defined as a process in which organic waste is degraded to be made into compost. Compost is explained as dead organic matter. 

You may wonder what is the need for composting. Composting is very essential because the compost made can be used as a natural fertiliser. 

The natural fertilisers obtained from composting can be used as a substitute for synthetic fertilisers. This will give a significant edge to the environment because there are a lot of negative impacts of synthetic fertilisers on the soil and the environment. 

Synthetic fertilisers are made out of various chemicals that may cause land and water pollution. These chemicals can also leach out into the water bodies and thus affect aquatic life. The food chains are interrupted at various levels and many species are put at great risk in this way.

It is even claimed that the effects of synthetic fertilisers are antagonistic to the water retention capacities of soil leading to water wastage and loss of non-renewable resources. 

However, it is claimed that the process of composting needs to be done with certain specificities in mind. There are several conditions that have to be ensured before composting can be done. These are: 

  • The material should have organic content
  • The material should not be toxic 
  • The material should be biodegradable 
  • The material to be composted should not emit any harmful fumes or gases
  • The material should not be contaminated or infiltrated in any way. It should be pure

Cornstarch fulfils all these requirements and therefore can be composted. This adds into the advantages rendered by cornstarch as a natural consumer product. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that cornstarch is biodegradable because it is made from natural, plant-based materials. The products derived from cornstarch may degrade in about 90 to 180 days.

Biodegradation is the breakdown of waste into simpler materials by the action of microbes. Cornstarch has a lot of applications in the food industry. However, it also can be used to make bioplastics. 

Other than being biodegradable, cornstarch can also be recycled and composted. Compost can be used as a natural fertiliser that can undo the effects of synthetic fertilisers. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is corn starch biodegradable?

How long does cornstarch take to degrade?

Cornstarch is a plant-based product and therefore, it can very aptly be postulated that cornstarch is completely biodegradable. While cornstarch may degrade in several months, the products derived from cornstarch are known to take around 90 to 180 days to break down.

References 

  • Liu, H., Yu, L., Xie, F., & Chen, L. (2006). Gelatinization of cornstarch with different amylose/amylopectin content. Carbohydrate polymers, 65(3), 357-363.
  • Fall, A., Bertrand, F., Ovarlez, G., & Bonn, D. (2012). Shear thickening of cornstarch suspensions. Journal of rheology, 56(3), 575-591.
  • Nandiyanto, A. B. D., Fiandini, M., Ragadhita, R., Sukmafitri, A., Salam, H., & Triawan, F. (2020). MECHANICAL AND BIODEGRADATION PROPERTIES OF CORNSTARCH-BASED BIOPLASTIC MATERIAL. Materials Physics & Mechanics, 44(3).
  • Atiwesh, G., Mikhael, A., Parrish, C. C., Banoub, J., & Le, T. A. T. (2021). Environmental impact of bioplastic use: A review. Heliyon, 7(9), e07918.

 

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