While some people are concerned that polylactic acid-based packaging might contaminate the PET recycling stream, Mike Centers plans to develop a market for recycled PLA.
The recycling industry veteran who also sells sorting equipment to municipal materials recovery facilities has formed Biocor LLC in Concord, Calif., to buy post-consumer and post-industrial PLA and turn it back into lactic acid.
Centers, the executive director, expects to recycle 100,000 pounds of PLA in March and at least 600,000 pounds by the end of the year.
We have to start establishing a recycling network for PLA now so we don't miss out on the opportunity, he said.
Centers has already contracted with one company for an annual supply of 180,000 pounds of PLA. He said the prices he will offer will save companies money vs. the cost of shipping PLA containers to landfills.
Centers previously held positions as vice president of commercial processing for Tomra Pacific Inc. and senior vice president of the western region in charge of materials buying for Strategic Materials Inc.
In an interview at the Plastics Recycling 2010 conference, held March 2-4 in Austin, Texas, Centers said he formed Biocor in January. PLA maker Natureworks LLC of Minnetonka, Minn., is a minority stakeholder in Biocor.
Initially, a Wisconsin company will convert the recycled PLA into lactic acid, Centers said. He declined to identify the company, however sources said that firm is EnviroGreen Solutions LLC. EnviroGreen is a sister company of WRR Environmental Services Co. Inc. in Eau Claire, Wis., that already turns recycled PLA back into lactic acid for NatureWorks.
Centers, who claims to have helped the fiberglass sector boost its recycling rate, said he intends to market the lactic acid to Natureworks and other lactic acid users.
Centers also is president and CEO of Titus Maintenance and Installation Services Inc. in Fontana, Calif., which provides turnkey services to material recovery facilities in the West. He also is president of CMMA LLC in Concord, which provides consulting services to MRFs on material handling and recovery issues.
This problem [of collecting and sorting PLA] is not as bad as it is perceived, Centers said.
His service, he said, will help conserve nonrenewable resources, lower carbon emissions and reduce packaging waste.
Centers said Biocor will recycle PLA from water and juice bottles, clamshells, cups and cutlery, and will accept products from varied sources. But the company initially will concentrate on getting material from MRFs with optical-sorting capabilities that operate in bottle-bill states, and from converters that have PLA scrap.
The post-industrial market will be our cleanest stream and easiest to separate, he said.
Down the road, he said Biocor plans to build its own plant to turn PLA into lactic acid. Timing will depends on PLA volume and what he learns about the market.
Centers also said he intends to work with manufacturers to create a way to visually identify PLA, which looks identical to PET packaging.
Twenty years ago, we wouldn't have guessed where we'd be in fiberglass recycling, Centers said. I don't see why this product can't have the same growth potential.
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