"Whether it's crystallized or blended with other polymers, if handled appropriately like other polymers, Ingeo can be recycled and its properties retained through numerous recycle events," said Frank Diodato, segment director for durables and distribution for NatureWorks. "This is true for both post-industrial and post-consumer Ingeo (engineering) plastics formulations. At the post-consumer level plastics are often mixed, making recycling more difficult, but that's not as common with post-industrial materials."
Although bioplastics have been targeted as "contaminating" the recycling and waste stream, nearly all plastics do, said Davies.
"Bottles in the US are typically made of either 100-percent clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or 100-percent white high-density polyethylene, so these are easily identified. They are easy for consumers to identify, and for material recovery facilities (MRFs) to sort manually, and therefore get recycled in very high numbers. By contrast, clear clamshells can be made of PET, polystyrene, or polypropylene, and recyclers need the most modern equipment to distinguish among them. Most of them sort out bottles only and then landfill the rest, or ship it to Asia for sorting, or ship it to end users here for reuse."
Aside from sharing details with MRFs about how to work with its products, NatureWorks also wants to help develop end markets. "Once there are end markets for a material, the MRFs will be happy to sort it." said Davies. For example, traditional plastics compounders buy different plastics feedstocks and mix them together to make value-added blends. Some of them are interested in buying NatureWorks' recycled polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastics. BioCor, for example, already buys post-industrial and post-consumer PLA scrap, both petro-plastic and bioplastic.
The new range of materials made out of recyclables is opening up huge design possibilities. It's interesting to note that, right now, this is really taking just a drop in the bucket out of the waste stream. In 50 years, however, we could see a significant reduction in the waste stream because of serious percentages of recylcing. As well, the whole movement, notable in the auto industry, about designing equipment so that it's easily disassembled, will reach full flower and feed into this. Also of note is the fact that what's happening now seems driven more by technology than regulations, which makes it more organic.
Seems there are two interesting aspects of this story, Ann. for one, it's good to see a manufacturer would work with a recycler to make sure the products they produce have a welcome home at their end of life. It's also good to see these products will break down easily in landfills -- given that you say 88 percent of plastic doesn't get recycled.
Rob, Completely agree with you and it seems like those two criteria will ultimately become requirements for almost all types of recycling options. It's amazing to think about the amount of innovation that will likely occur in this market area over the next few years, given the pace of developments at this point. Good stuff, Ann.
Thanks for the feedback guys. Actually, only some bioplastics are biodegradable--but purposeful, managed composting and biodegrading in landfills are two different things. The first captures as much CO2 as possible, while the second does not--landfills are the last resort that everyone is trying to avoid because it takes so long for anything to break down there and lets off a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. Engineering bioplastics are neither, so recycling them is the best option.
Alex' point is a good one about technology, not regulations, driving things. That's certainly the case when it comes to energy recovery of plastic by recycling them into fuels, which will be the subject of my May feature.
I agree, Apresher. Given the low participation in recycling, your suggestion of making materials that decompose easily may be a big answer. Now that we're harvesting methane from landfills, decomposable trash going to landfills will become positive.
But, like everything else, recycling begins in the home. Our fast paced and often immoral life-style seems to be endangering the original concept of home. We now rely government, industry, science, and big thinking to solve the simplest problems that use to be second nature in the home.
Chuck, it is possible to recycle plastics into fuels, which is the subject of my upcoming May feature article on alternative energy. However, bioplastics aren't currently a large component in such recycled plastics-based fuel, since they represent such a small part of the plastics waste stream and since plastics-to-oil technology is only just starting to take off commercially. But yes, you can start with either biomaterials or petromaterials to get to ethanol, and this is happening in small numbers.
It's true that some energy harvesting is occurring at landfills, but it's important to remember that there's a world of difference in CO2 released between unmanaged biodegradation in the typical landfill or anywhere else on the one hand, and managed composting in landfills or anywhere else, on the other. A biodegradable material can take many many years to finish biodegrading, during which time it releases considerable amounts of CO2 and may also leave undesirable residues in the soil. Composting, when done right, happens a lot faster, capturing more CO2 and leaving little or (preferably) no residues.
There are many places on the web to find our more, but here's some info and definitions from BASF, a bioplastics maker:
The company that brought you 3D-printed eyeglasses has launched both an improved clear polymer material for 3D printing optical components and a high-speed, precision, 3D-printing process for making small- and medium-sized batches in a few days.
We've found an amazing variety of robot hands & arms in medicine, space, and service robots, as well as R&D and assembly. Some are based on industrial designs modified for speed or dexterity, while others more closely emulate human movements, as well as human size and shape.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
The first photos made with a 3D-printed telescope are here and they're not as fuzzy as you might expect. A team from the University of Sheffield beat NASA to the goal. The photos of the Moon were made with a reflecting telescope that cost the research team £100 to make (about $161 US).
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.