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Highlighting the recyclability of PLA

New whitepaper from TotalEnergies Corbion

Original Publication: Sustainable Plastics
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A new whitepaper from TotalEnergies Corbion offers a deep dive into the topic of PLA recycling. Stay in the cycle, rethinking recycling with PLA bioplastics offers a summary of the recycling market for PLA, as well as the relevant regulations, and technologies, and effectively makes the case that the recycling of PLA is viable, economically feasible and wholly suitable to be commonly used as an end-of-life solution for PLA bioplastics. 

The white paper debunks the myth that PLA cannot be separated out from other waste plastics, pointing to the fact that today, PET, PP and HDPE tended to be the plastics that are sorted and mechanically recycled.

“Thanks to progress in Near Infrared (NIR) technology, density separation, AI and robotics systems in waste management, bioplastics such as PLA can technically be easily separated from other types of polymers on the sorting line. In fact, purities of 97% have been obtained using NIR sorting of PLA, higher than most traditional plastics,” the authors write. When are applied in sorting, PLA can again be easily separated from PE and PP using density separation sink-float techniques, while sorting PLA from a plastic mix including PET is simple using NIR.

Depolymerisation technology allows new recycled PLA to be produced that has the same quality as virgin material as well as being food contact approved. The Luminy rPLA grades manufactured by the company contain 20% or 30% recycled content from a mix of post-consumer and post-industrial recycled PLA, which is third-party certified by SCS Global Services. 

The need for plastics to be reused and recycled responsibly is critical. This white paper contains examples of where PLA recycling has already been implemented successfully, and how.

“Valourizing PLA waste as a feedstock for either chemical or mechanical recycling is a huge opportunity,” said Gerrit Gobius du Sart, Corporate Scientist, at TotalEnergies Corbion. “Bridging the gap between insufficient current recycling rates and ambitious upcoming EU targets will mean a gradual phasing out of a linear use of plastics through reduction, reuse, recycling, and recovery of materials.”

The company is committed to developing the recycling value chain together with specialised stakeholders from the complete PLA value chain. In this way, it proposes to stimulate demand for PLA, thereby increasing recycling rates for PLA-based products. Already, it has the infrastructure in place for the chemical depolymerisation of PLA at its commercial plant in Thailand and it is also working to develop this capability in Europe.