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Is biodegradable plastic best chemically-recycled?

Users of polylactic acid (PLA) biodegradable plastics now have one more option when it comes to recycling. Biodegradable plastics were initially developed with the intent of, well biodegrading in the environment through composting but it soon became apparent that the infrastructure was not always in places to achieve this aim.

So, the issue became how best to separate PLA in the post-consumer waste stream from recyclable petroleum-based plastics such as PET and HDPE and ensure that it was somehow reused. Well besides mechanical recycling there is chemical recycling, otherwise called advanced recycling.

With its eye on this circularity route, PLA supplier Total Corbion PLA recently launched the world’s first commercially available chemically recycled bioplastics product thereby closing the loop for paper-coated packaging and serviceware.

The Luminy recycled PLA grades boast the same properties, characteristics and regulatory approvals as virgin Luminy PLA, but are partially made from post-industrial and post-consumer PLA waste. Total Corbion PLA is already receiving and depolymerizing reprocessed PLA waste, which is then purified and polymerized back into commercially available Luminy rPLA.

The commercial availability of recycled PLA (rPLA) offers brand owners the opportunity to make products from rPLA, with the luxury of having original food contact and other certifications in place. Using rPLA can contribute to meeting the recycled content targets of brand owners.

The PLA recovery route. Image: Total Corbion PLA

Thomas Philipon, CEO at Total Corbion PLA, sees this as a logical step towards an even more sustainable offering: “Our company’s vision is to create a better world for today and generations to come. This ability to now efficiently receive, repurpose and resupply PLA is a further demonstration of the sustainability of our product and the demonstration of our commitment to enable the circular economy through value chain partnership.”

As an initial offering, grades will be supplied with 20% recycled content using the widely accepted principles of mass balance. “As we are currently ramping up this initiative, the initial volumes are limited but we are confident that rPLA will grow to be a significant part of our overall sales revenues”, states François de Bie, Senior Marketing Director at Total Corbion PLA. Currently, Looplife in Belgium and Sansu in Korea are among the first active partners that support collecting, sorting and cleaning of post-industrial and post-consumer PLA waste. The resulting PLA feedstock is then used by Total Corbion PLA to make new Luminy PLA polymers via the chemical recycling process. Total Corbion PLA is actively looking for additional partners from around the world that will help to close the loop. We invite interested parties to contact their local sales representative.

Total Corbion PLA expects that the growing demand for rPLA will also boost the collecting, sorting and reprocessing of post-use PLA for both mechanical and chemical recycling, as de Bie explains further: “At Total Corbion PLA, we are actively seeking to purchase more post-industrial and post-consumer PLA waste, creating value for the recycle industry as a whole.”


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