Think ethanol is the only hot value-added product made from corn? Think again. These days you can cover up with a blanket, perfect your golf swing off a tee and even get a good night's sleep on a pillow all made from — you guessed it — corn.
A plastic called polylactide (PLA), manufactured in the U.S. by NatureWorks LLC, has revolutionized the use of corn in everyday products. It can be used to make everything from packaging for food products to apparel to carpet to fiberfill.
NatureWorks PLA and Ingeo fibers are licensed to other companies that provide the finished and semi-finished goods to consumers. It's through these companies that you can purchase products made from the corn you grow in your fields.
The plastic takes 65-68% less fossil fuel to manufacture than petroleum-based products, according to Bridget Charon, marketing communications specialist, NatureWorks LLC. She also points out that no actual petroleum is used in the PLA itself, making it an environmentally friendly product.
You could call it nature's recycling, says Yvonne Simon, Minnesota Corn Growers Association. NatureWorks' process uses cornstarch to make dextrose, which is then turned into lactic acid and refined further to make the resin that is used in products. Those products are biodegradable, and when composted they return nutrients to the ground to grow more corn.
Corn has long been an ingredient in the manufacturing of sweeteners, cosmetics and other items you use every day. Looking for that unusual holiday gift? Then check out these new biodegradable products being made from a renewable resource right outside your back door.
Blankets made from Ingeo fiber are produced at Faribault Woolen Mills in Faribault, MN. Several colors and weaves are available. The blankets range in different wool/Ingeo blends, but all offer the performance of the Ingeo fiber. The fabric won't pill like cotton or wool. For more information, visit www.faribowool.com  or call 800-448-9665.
Fox River Mills, a sock and handwear company based in Osage, IA, manufactures “corn socks,” made from Ingeo fibers. Fox River makes styles for athletic, outdoor and casual activities. They range in price from $10 to $15. The socks recently became available in major sporting goods and sport specialty stores, and are available on the company's Web site at www.foxsox.com  or call 641-732-3798.
If you're a golfer, now you can hit off a long-lasting, environmentally friendly tee from Eco Golf. The tees, made from PLA, last up to eight times longer than a traditional wooden golf tee, which means less tee box litter. They're also completely biodegradable. Tees can be personalized with most fonts and small logos when ordered in certain quantities. For more information, go to www.ecogolf.com  or call 888-326-3003.
Benson, MN, company Future Products has made it possible to wear corn — in the form of shirts made of Ingeo fiber. The shirts have the softness and feel of cotton, but wear like a synthetic fabric.
Don Lenz, owner of Future Products, says they tested their product at a Maytag facility and found it has wicking properties that meet or exceed any other products on the market — and it's all natural.
The company will work with customers to embroider logos or names on the shirts. When launching the product, says Lenz, “We decided to be like Henry Ford and say you can have any color you want, as long as it's white.” They hope to have other colors available in early 2007. For more information or to order, call 651-683-0577 or visit www.renewapparel.com .
An assortment of corn products can be found at Web sites like www.cornmug.com  or www.recycledproducts.com . There, you can order mugs, letter openers, pens, pencils, rulers, golf tees and food containers, all made of corn plastics or cornstarch. Most products can be printed with company names and logos.
Check out the sites for more information, and look for the products at trade shows where corn grower associations or other companies might be handing them out.
Magic Nuudles, a product made from cornstarch, look like colorful packing peanuts. Safe for kids to play with, they can be moistened and used as building blocks. When you want to discard them, all you do is run water over the Nuudles and they melt away. The Web site www.magicnuudles.com  lists retail locations, and they can also be ordered online.
Other products made from corn include bedding, carpet, drapery and bath products.
Both www.ingeofibers.com  and www.natureworksllc.com  list co-branded partners that manufacture products using PLA and Ingeo fiber. You can find many more items made from corn at those sites, from apparel to food packaging, and also where to buy them.