With growing market volumes of innovative bio-based and biodegradable plastics such as PLA (polylactic acid), the recycling of these materials is becoming a more viable option. We therefore spoke to Steve Dejonghe from Looplife Polymers Site, a recycler in Belgium that already successfully recycles PLA for a number of industrial projects, about the recyclability of these materials and the demand and quality of recycled PLA.

Steve Dejonghe, Senior Sales Manager, Looplife Polymers Site

Steve Dejonghe will also speak at a panel discussion on the second day of the upcoming 12th European Bioplastics Conference on 28/29 November 2017 in Berlin. The discussion on mechanical recycling of bioplastics will explore the options for biopolymers against the background of the EU Plastics Strategy and the revision of the EU waste legislation; quality of infrastructure and recycling technology, possible implications on the recycling stream, as well as potential applications for recyclates. For more information or to register, please visit the conference website.

Which end-of-life options are there for PLA? Is PLA suitable for mechanical recycling?

Steve: Some PLA waste streams are indeed suitable for mechanical recycling. As for any other plastic, the quality of the initial segregation will ultimately impact the final properties of the recycled material.

How easily can PLA be sorted and recycled from post-consumer waste with today’s sorting and recycling technologies?

Steve: It is already demonstrated that parameters of infrared (IR) systems can be adjusted for sorting PLA out of domestic waste (Wrap study, UK). The recyclability of post-consumer PLA waste depends greatly on the type of application it is originating from. The mechanical recycling process takes place on regular equipment, with only minor modifications needed.

Which qualities for PLA recyclates do producers request and how can a good quality be guaranteed?

Steve: Aiming at non-food applications, different grades of r-PLA can be proposed. Constant specifications of the recyclates are the key factor for most producers.

How do prices for PLA recyclates compare to other plastic recyclates?

Steve: The price gap between PLA and other commodity plastics is greatly reduced when considering recycled grades.

How do demand, quality, and volumes of PLA recyclates compare to conventional plastic recyclates?

Steve: For many price-sensitive applications where no food-contact is required, r-PLA becomes attractive for its recycled and biobased nature.

What is needed to create a stronger market for PLA recyclates?

Steve: Expanding the market for prime PLA, acquiring more technical expertise in sorting facilities, dedicated incentives for use of biobased plastics and/or recycled material.

Which legislative measures or incentives would be needed in the EU in order to facilitate a future market introduction and penetration of PLA recyclates and improve sustainability?

Steve: An adoption of a program similar to the “USDA BioPreferred” programme for procurement as well as incentives for the use of recycled plastic material.