Biobased plastics, such as PLA, and increased recycling are essential to achieve a circular economy and decouple from fossil feedstock. To this end, PLA should be integrated into waste management systems without worrying about existing recycling streams.
Due to its functioning and sustainability properties, PLA is primarily used in packaging applications. To reply to concerns on the impact of PLA on the PET recycling stream, the Dutch University of Wageningen analyzed in collaboration with TotalEnergies Corbion. This January, the results were published underneath the title: “Effect of polylactic acid trays on the optical and thermal properties of recycled poly (ethylene terephthalate).”
The study infers that PLA has little to no influence on recycled PET (rPET) considering current industrial methods for sorting and recycling. The current concentration of PLA in the Dutch recycled PET was calculated to be between 0% and 0.019%.
Even with raised PLA consumption, the near-infrared sorting technology maintains this concentration below 1%. PLA food trays were added to PET bottles in concentrations from 0.1 up to 1%. At 1% and below, the effect of PLA on the optical and thermal properties of PET was negligible. Conversely, 0.1% of PVC already negatively impacted recycled PET.
The authors Eggo van Velzen, Sharon Chu, Karin Molenveld and Vladislav Jašo conclude that
“In case the sorting and recycling facilities maintain their current careful operation, no negative impact of PLA on PET recycling can be foreseen, and further integration of biobased plastics in the plastic waste management system can be pursued.”