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Engineering Materials

Bioplastics Recycling Options Expand

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Alexander Wolfe
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Engineering needs meet price viability
Alexander Wolfe   3/23/2012 9:16:46 AM
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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.

Rob Spiegel
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OK in the landfill
Rob Spiegel   3/23/2012 1:45:33 PM
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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.

apresher
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Bioplastics
apresher   3/23/2012 1:54:19 PM
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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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 2:10:59 PM
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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.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bioplastics
Rob Spiegel   3/23/2012 2:52:25 PM
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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.

Charles Murray
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Re: Bioplastics
Charles Murray   3/23/2012 6:25:21 PM
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Ann: Is it possible to use any of these recycled products for the creation of fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol?

ChasChas
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ChasChas   3/26/2012 10:10:06 AM
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Good arcticle - holds promise.

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.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2012 1:18:38 PM
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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.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bioplastics
Ann R. Thryft   3/26/2012 1:21:13 PM
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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:

http://www.bioplastics.basf.com/faq.html


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bioplastics
Rob Spiegel   3/26/2012 1:45:19 PM
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This is very helpful, Ann. Are some landfill doing managed composting?If so, do you know how they separate what cane be composted from what can't be composted? 

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