The latest news from the world of Bioplastics

Thomas Philipon, CEO, details our future growth ambitions

20 September 2021

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TotalEnergies Corbion

Our new CEO has been at the helm for almost 12 months. We interviewed him to hear his thoughts on the major achievements, the major challenges and the future of bioplastics.

Q: What do you consider to be the major achievements for TotalEnergies Corbion over the past few years?

A: Basically, the company has transformed from a start-up that was building a PLA production plant to a professional and fully operational production company bringing sizeable solutions to enable the circular economy globally. The company has successfully designed and implemented the business processes needed to become a reliable global leader in the PLA bioplastics industry. Our plant has achieved a key milestone, producing a cumulative 100kT of PLA, while we have set up sales and supply chains that serve over 400 customers in over 30 different countries and developed critical growth strategic partnerships throughout the value chain.

Q: What do you think are some of the major challenges facing the future of PLA?

A: It is clear that PLA bioplastics have many environmental benefits to offer. Besides the reduced dependency on fossil resources and the reduced carbon footprint, our bioplastics offer a range of environmentally friendly end-of-life options. There is much debate around end-of-life of plastics in general. Luminy® PLA is perfectly suitable for being collected, sorted and mechanically recycled, as proved by third party reporting. Luminy® PLA is also chemically recyclable, and we are proud to be launching our first PLA made from chemically recycled PLA feedstock this year. The biodegradation aspects of PLA offer the option to divert organic waste from landfill and prevent compost being contaminated with traditional plastics. In, for example, teabags or organic waste collection bags this is a major advantage. These benefits are unfortunately not recognized by all parties in the value chain and we will need to play our role in partnering throughout the value chain to support the removal of any remaining doubts.

Q: What do you think will be the major challenges for the future of bioplastics ?

A: As mentioned in the previous answer, we do need to take away some of the misconceptions or doubts that key stakeholders might still have in the value chain. Bioplastics are new and offer new end-of-life solutions. As with any new concepts, change is required. We are very much aware that the change will have to come from an efficient collaboration through the value chain. At TotalEnergies Corbion, we will reach out more to our customers, our potential customers and other players in the value chain to help explain with fact-based argumentations how together we will be able to enable the circular economy. We want to simultaneously roll out the benefits of bioplastics and find performing solutions with our customers, while at the same time working with value chain players to make sure we have a circular solution at industry level. For example, to speed up our chemical recycling program, we need access to post-consumer or post- industrial PLA recycles. We are ready to collaborate to set up that value chain and supply chain, but we also realize that a plastic waste sorter will not actively engage in sorting PLA from other plastic waste if they are not aware that an outlet for sorted recycle exists.

Q: What role do you think TotalEnergies Corbion can play to overcome that challenge ?

A: In advancing the adoption of Luminy® PLA bioplastics, we need to work more closely with our value chain partners. We need to engage with them in application development processes, to aid and support them by providing answers to the broad manner of questions they might have in commercializing an application. Many of our customers have the same questions and as a leader in bioplastics, we have answers to many of those questions already. Where we might not yet have answers, we go out and find them. Typical questions include technical ones around heat resistance or barrier properties, or around the CO2 footprint or LCA data, but also others for example in the field of how to communicate the benefits of bioplastics or how to determine the best end-of-life option. We have recently staffed up our team so as to be able to engage with our partners in these areas. If you have any application that you would like to develop, please reach out.