A dispute is brewing about the recyclability of packaging made from renewable resources. The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) issued a statement that it “refutes” the premise that polylactic acid (PLA) containers can be successfully mixed in to the existing stream of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers.
NAPCOR concerns include cost of separation, increased contamination and yield loss, and impact on recycled PET (RPET) quality and processing.
“We don’t doubt that PLA can be recycled,” said Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, “but there are unquestionably some big issues yet to overcome. The current reality is that these issues transfer significant system costs and logistics burdens to the PET recyclers, impacting the viability and continued sustainability of their businesses.”
Mike Schedler, NAPCOR’s Technical Director added, “The entire premise that you can simply add PLA containers into the PET recycling stream, successfully sort them out, and eventually find markets for the material is like advocating that mixed ceramic materials can be thrown right in with the recyclable glass stream to be sorted out, and that eventually there will be enough of this mixed material that someone will want to buy it. It’s really no different from this and just isn’t a viable solution from anyone’s point of view.”
Suppliers of high tech systems have issued press releases saying they have solved the sorting problem. Near-infrared (NIR) sorting systems, for example, may be an effective means of sorting out 93 percent of the PLA from the PET recycling stream. NIR systems, however, may cost $200,000 or more.