Primo Water Corp. is leading a new consortium to develop bioplastic recycling.
Primo, which bottles water in polylactic acid containers, is joined by 19 other organizations to develop effective and economical recovery systems and end markets for post-consumer bioplastics, such as single-serve bottles. The group will be called the Bioplastics Recycling Consortium.
``Packaging born of renewable material, then recycled and reused for new packaging, is the ultimate definition of sustainability,'' said Tim Ronan, Primo To Go vice president, in an Aug. 19 news release. Primo To Go is the brand name of Primo's single-serve bottled water.
``The Bioplastics Recycling Consortium has great potential because it's the first dedicated effort to bring together multiple links in the value chain to talk specifically about bioplastics' life cycle,'' he said.
Primo makes PLA bottles from Ingenio T resin, a material made from corn by NatureWorks LLC of Blair, Neb. Primo's bottled water is available across the United States through grocer Kroger Co. and affiliated stores, and in some regional retail grocery stores.
Primo of Winston-Salem, N.C., launched the PLA bottle in April, picking up where Biota Brands of America Inc. left off after going bankrupt a year earlier.
The consortium could be valuable if it addresses concerns about cost and effectiveness, said Peter Anderson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for a Competitive Waste Industry. PLA bottles likely would be in the same recycling streams as PET bottles but PLA's lower melting point would interfere with PET recycling if it contaminates the recycled PET stream.
``If their program solves issues before product is launched, then it's OK,'' Anderson said in a telephone interview from his center's office in Madison, Wis.
The consortium should address issues such as sorting costs and the threshold size of loads that would be efficient to sort, according to Anderson.
Currently there are too few PLA bottles around to impact recycling of the dominant PET container, but if their use grows, they could pose problems. The Center for a Competitive Waste Industry suggests PLA levels as low as one-tenth of a percent or less would contaminate sorted PET streams.
The consortium will work to find out how best to sort PLA bottles from PET, Primo's Ronan said in a telephone interview. Early research indicates that optical methods relying on infrared signatures do, in fact, work, he said.
Early research indicates PLA bottles, representing 1-4 percent of the waste stream, may be recoverable, according to Ronan. The consortium will look more closely at this issue to find the economic level to recycle the bottles, he said.
Although NatureWorks has offered to buy back post-consumer PLA containers, a longer-term solution would be to develop end markets. Markets will appear when recovered volumes are big enough, Ronan said. One possible end use is converting the bottles back to lactic acid to be repolymerized, he added.
``PLA bottles have value,'' Ronan said.
The bioplastics recycling consortium should address wider- reaching environmental issues, said Arthur von Wiesenburger, a consultant in Santa Barbara, Calif.
``Lack of recycling centers is a big problem,'' he said in an interview. As well, the consortium should put recycling bins in neighborhoods to encourage recycling and conduct educational campaigns to stimulate recycling.
``I can't see a good reason to switch to PLA,'' said Bob Lilienfeld, president of Cygnus Group, a company that aims to help organizations think and act more sustainably.
``If you recycle PLA, what is the net benefit vs. recycling a PET bottle?'' Lilienfeld said in a telephone interview from his office in Rochester, Mich. ``Show me the numbers.''
If PLA is recycled, finding end markets is crucial, according to Lilienfeld. Otherwise its attractions could fade like barrier PET beer bottles did when recycling markets proved hard to develop for the multimaterial bottles.