(Aug. 14, 2009) — Plastics News' optimistic editorial [“Best of bioplastics, worst of bioplastics,” Aug. 3, Page 6] on the prospects for bioplastics is seriously incomplete.
Recyclability, which was ignored in the editorial, has, in fact, always been a key part of any packaging launch, and that imperative is now greater in a carbon- constrained world facing climate change.
The manufacture of plastic bottles consumes more than 50 million Btu per ton, according to the Environmental Protection Agen- cy, all of which is lost when a bottle is [put in a landfil] instead of recovered.
Each ton of plastic bottles recycled conserves more than 40 percent of its weight in carbon emissions, not to mention its far-lower overall environmental impacts and greater job creation potential.
Recently, there have been serious questions about the life-cycle benefits of corn-based, bio-based products because of the currently fallow ground that must be tilled to plant that corn, which releases the carbon previously sequestered in the soil.
As a coalition of state and local recycling officials, the Plastic Redesign Pro- ject has long been concerned [about] what [polylactic acid], the first commercial bioplastic, would mean for recycling.
While we continue to work with NatureWorks to find a constructive solution, we need to make it clear that at present, PLA will likely have crippling economic impacts on the existing recycling infrastructure.
The necessary additional sorting systems, whose costs are not trivial, would leave too much PLA as contamination in the recycled PET stream, causing expensive downgrading.
As yet, there are no viable markets for the recovered PLA. Indeed, the most recent data that NatureWorks has shared with us seems to indicate that the latest real-world tests of the ability of optical scanners to separate PLA is more than 5 percent worse than in earlier controlled tests.
This means that, when PLA market penetration comes to exceed trace levels of just a few percent, the existing recycling programs will be undermined.
NatureWorks would have [done] far better to have continued [working] with the Plastic Redesign Project, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and [the National Association for PET Container Resources], to find work-arounds for these problems before they sold lactic acid to Biota and Primo for their bottles. We urge them to return to the test-first approach that they originally committed to do.
With respect, biding one's time until the next bump-up in oil prices, which is expected to rapidly ramp up market demand for bio-based resins, is not a sustainable strategy.
Plastic Redesign Project