How do biobased plastics boost the circular economy?
At TotalEnergies Corbion, we believe that products at their 'end-of-life' can easily become new products. This is the basis of a circular economy, where materials and resources are kept in a loop, reducing waste to landfill.
Innovative biobased materials such as Luminy® PLA (Poly Lactic Acid) can be transformed back into feedstock using established mechanical or advanced recycling methods. Advanced recycled Luminy® rPLA is sourced from used PLA and maintains the same certified characteristics. Meaning Luminy® PLA product life cycles can be endless.
Estimates suggest that if current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 million tonnes of plastic waste will be in landfills or our oceans and rivers by 2050.1
It is clear we must continue to rethink recycling, and it’s crucial to keep momentum on building a circulate plastic economy through the reduction, reuse, and recycling, of materials. And by innovating plastic end-of-life, we move away from fossil carbon use towards biobased resources for a more sustainable consumer cycle.
1. Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck, Kara Lavender Law, (2017) https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.1700782
Thanks to progressions in Near Infrared (NIR) technology, density separation, AI and robotics systems in waste management, bioplastics such as PLA can be easily separated from other types of polymers on the sorting line, including, among others, PET, PS, and HDPE. Purities of 97% have been obtained using NIR sorting of PLA, higher than most traditional plastics.2
We have seen PLA collect best practices in closed loops, for example, in hospitals, festivals, cultural events, sports competitions, hotels or from post-industrial waste.
2. Technical quality of rPET. Technical quality of rPET that can be obtained from Dutch PET bottles that have been collected, sorted, and mechanically recycled, Wageningen University & Research (2016) https://edepot.wur.nl/392306
A comprehensive outlook and vision on how recycling of PLA is viable, economically feasible and can be commonly used as an end-of-life solution for PLA bioplastics.
The white paper Stay in the cycle, rethinking recycling with PLA bioplastics shows that the ability for PLA to be depolymerized via hydrolysis to recreate the exact same PLA resin, allows it to be a circular material. The new recycled PLA maintains the same quality and food contact approval.
At TotalEnergies Corbion, we believe that PLA bioplastics can play an important part in our endeavours as we strive for a truly circular plastics economy where we provide additional end-of-life options compared to those available for traditional plastics. Mechanical and advanced recycling that turns PLA back into PLA will become viable, economically feasible and commonly used end-of-life solutions for PLA bioplastics. When recycling biobased plastic, the biobased carbon content is kept in the loop, and its benefits last longer. Biomass growth absorbs carbon from the atmosphere; this biobased carbon present in the plant is later stored in PLA. Recycling PLA does not release the carbon back into the atmosphere and stores it for a longer amount of time. Recycling PLA allows avoiding the environmental impact including carbon footprint from the biomass growth and lactic acid production. In the virgin PLA production, these stages represent 70% of PLA global warming potential.
PLA can be flaked mechanically and repurposed for non-food contact use.
But there have also been significant developments in advanced recycling processes. Also known as chemical recycling, feedstock recovery or tertiary recycling, plastics are converted into monomers, oligomers or hydrocarbons that can be used again to produce polymers. rPLA is certified for food contact use.
Aliphatic polyesters like PLA offer the opportunity to hydrolyse the polymer chain directly into its monomer, lactic acid. This reaction is highly selective, not in the least due to its low-temperature requirements.
In line with ISO 22095 standard, TotalEnergies Corbion recycled PLA, which contains 20% and 30% post-industrial and post-consumer recycled content, has been third-party certified by SCS Global Services, in accordance with the SCS Recycled Content Standard.
The 20% and 30% recycled polylactic acid (PLA) is sourced from a mix of post-consumer and pre-consumer recycled material. The material quantification is based on a mass-balance allocation accessed and validated by third-party certification body SCS Global Services.