Recycling (recovery & sortation)

NatureWorks LLC is comitted to responsibly introducing Ingeo™ biopolymer into any market and region.  We work hard to address the concerns of all recyclers while supporting initiatives to achieve the best recycling results through local infrastructure, collection, and processing.

  1. We participate in regional pilot studies to address the specific concerns of local recyclers.  One such example is the work we're doing in California with the Department of Conservation to help design a multi-plastic sorting business model that will benefit the environment while also being profitable and affordable to most or all communities.
  2. We've studied the use of sorting technologies like near-infrared as well as low-cost alternatives like black light illumination to ensure that Ingeo can be uniquely identified using something as simples as a black light.
  3. Working with ASTM, interested plastics producers & stakeholders, we are also working to establish a new material identification code for Ingeo.  In the future, a unique code will improve material identification and help optimize plastics waste scenarios whether that be composting, mechanical recycling, feedstock recovery or incineration.

 


THE RECYCLING SITUATION TODAY

There are numerous incumbent oil-based plastics commonly used today (eg. PET, polyethylene, PVC, polypropylene & polystyrene) that are at a scale where they could be recycled.

In spite of this, today only two of these plastics are actually being recovered & recycled at the post-consumer level.  Furthermore, though many consumer products and packaging are made from these two plastics, only bottles are actually recycled:

  • PET (polyethylene terephthalate) - Typically used for bottles of soda, water & juice
  • HDPE (high density polyethylene) - Typically used for bottles of milk laundry detergent, etc.

For each of these plastics, bottle recycle rates in the U.S. are only around 25% (1).

Why aren't more of these 2 plastics being recycled?  And why aren't all of those other plastics being recycled?   The future for recycling Ingeo is exciting!  Unlike conventional plastics, Ingeo can be simply & economically recycled.
The unfortunate reality is that the underlying economics of recycling are often not attractive.  For plastics manufacturers, it's often cheaper to make new plastics from new starting materials (oil or gas) than to recycle.
An Ingeo bottle can be remade into a new bottle again and again.  Oil-based plastics are typically downcycled into product of diminishing economic value (eg. decking or carpet), and are ultimately destined for a landfill.

 
 


IDENTIFYING INGEO IN THE RECYCLE STREAM

There is a debate and concern about the impact bioplastics will have on the current plastics recycling infrastructure and contamination of the recycling stream.  While current waste reduction systems are evolving, NatureWorks is committed to responsibly introduce Ingeo to the market.  Thus, we have evaluated several different sorting technologies to identify Ingeo products from other plastics.

 

Near-Infrared (NIR)

NIR sorting is the industry's preferred plastics sorting technology because it can accurately identity the many different polymers already in use today (different polymers reflect an identifiable light spectrum).  Testing on widely-used present-day technology proved that Ingeo can be identified in the mixed waste plastics stream with very high accuracy.

  • Titech has demonstrated the ability of its near-infrared sorting systems to eject concentrated amounts of PLA in a PET sorting operation.  Titech's near-infrared sorting is perhaps the most dominant technology used worldwide.
    • Sorting efficiency in a single pass was found to be a minimum of 97.5% accuracy.
    • In one test a 3,000 lb bale of plastic was infused with 0.75% Ingeo product (equivalent to 43.5MM lbs of Ingeo in the market).  Using NIR, sorting was 94% accurate with 453 ppm Ingeo detected in the flake.  This flake was then washed & extruded into sheet film.  The results showed "no difference in clarity or color versus the control flake batch."
    • Unisenor has show its laser flake technology is fully capable of sorting PLA flakes from desired PET recycle stream at efficiencies as high as 96-99%.  This is consistent with other plastics considered contaminants using the PET flake sorting technology.
    • MSS tested Ingeo in its Aladdin near-infrared system.  The test confirmed that Ingeo emits a unique polymeric signature.  The test demonstrated that Ingeo comes up as other plastics in a system specifically designed to identify PET, PE and other plastics.  Its unique signature means that the equipment could be programmed to identity Ingeo as Ingeo or simply as "other plastics".

    A report published by the internationally recognized non-profit Waste Resources Action Program (WRAP) in June 2008 (2) stated: "NIR systems can effectively remove Ingeo bioplastics and cart board from a mixed packaging stream."

     

    Black Light Illumination

    Realizing that not all of today's recyclers have the latest technology in sorting equipment installed, we partnered with bottled water brand Primo to test the feasibility of sorting using black light illumination.  While portions of this project are still underway, the initial results are promising.

    • A light signature was injected inside the preform for a Primo water bottle.  Under a normal black light, the bottle flouresces allowing for visual separation of plastics.
    • This process has been tested at two major recycling facilities with excellent results.

     

     


    (1)  Environmental Protection Agency. Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2007 (November 2008) (PDF | 5.8MB)

    (2)  WRAP. Domestic Mixed Plastics Packaging Waste Option (June 2008) (PDF | 3.1MB)