I applaud the balanced view Frank Esposito brought with his Aug. 3, Page 6 Viewpoint, “Best of bioplastics, worst of bioplastics.” Peter Anderson's response [“PLA will negatively impact recycling,” Aug. 17, Page 7] requires clarification.
To achieve sustainability, we must move from finite to renewable resources, from carbon to solar capital, from inefficient waste-recovery systems that down-cycle and ultimately landfill, to closed-loop systems that reuse materials in near perpetuity.
Anderson expressed worry that polylactic acid would disrupt the PET bottle recycling structure.
NatureWorks has taken an incremental, transparent approach to every pound of bottle-grade resin we have sold. We select partner companies that are committed to extended producer responsibility, turning away on a nearly weekly basis sales opportunities in the bottle market. We take a dual approach to this market, looking simultaneously at the questions and challenges surrounding material separation and sorting, as well as an economically viable post-consumer waste proposition for Ingeo bioresin after collection and isolation.
NatureWorks and Primo water have completed the first field test at a high-volume sorting/ recycling center operated by a fellow member of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. The study found that Ingeo PLA bottles can be sorted out of the PET stream using near-infrared equipment to industry-acceptable levels.The clear PET stream contained just 453 parts per million PLA. The resulting PET was 99.95 percent pure.
We agree with Anderson that demonstrating that Ingeo PLA bottles can be sorted does not answer two questions: What happens to those bottles once sorted? How much does sorting cost?
To address this, the bioplastics industry is working on market-development activities for post-consumer PLA. The work to develop a market is progressing — a market that would make the presence of PLA in a mixed plastic stream a business opportunity for recyclers, rather than a problem to be avoided.
There are some who are concerned that if oil prices go up before these markets are developed, then PLA bottles will increase in volume and potentially contaminate the PET recycling steam and harm recyclers' businesses. That did not happen last year when oil spiked to about $150 a barrel. Fears of a flood of Ingeo PLA bottles are groundless.
NatureWorks remains committed to the philosophy of extended producer responsibility, and the amount of Ingeo PLA bottles now in the market is statistically insignificant compared to total PET count.
When faced with the challenges of doing something new, it is tempting to stick with the status quo. But the status quo — dependence on fossil-fuel-based plastics with extremely low recycling rates — is not good enough. The world requires alternative materials that significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumed, while offering the performance and appeal that consumers expect.