The Complexities of PLA and the Need for Improved Recycling Systems

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Feb 17, 20243 min read

0

The Complexities of PLA and the Need for Improved Recycling Systems

Introduction:

In recent news, there has been a growing concern about the use of PLA (polylactide) plastics and their limited recyclability. PLA, considered a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastics, has been categorized as the seventh type of plastic that cannot be used in certain locations. This decision has left many wondering why a supposedly eco-friendly material is being banned. In this article, we will explore the complexities surrounding PLA and the need for improved recycling systems.

The Challenge of PLA Recycling:

One of the main challenges with PLA recycling is the lack of a comprehensive recycling concept among the general public. PLA, like traditional plastics, often ends up in landfills instead of being properly recycled. Even when PLA is correctly disposed of, there are currently no manufacturers who can effectively reuse or convert it into compost. This lack of end-market solutions further compounds the issue of PLA waste management.

Legislative Gaps:

Another reason for the limited recyclability of PLA in Taiwan is the absence of legislation regarding its recycling and composting mechanisms. While businesses may have the capability to recycle and produce compost from PLA, they are unable to legally sell these products. This disconnect between recycling capabilities and legal frameworks hinders the circular flow of both money and materials.

Similarities with Other Biodegradable Plastics:

PLA shares similarities with other biodegradable plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene). These materials are also derived from biobased sources like corn and potatoes. However, PLA's recycling and composting processes require specific conditions to achieve optimal biodegradation rates. For instance, according to the EN 13432 standard, PLA must break down into pieces smaller than 2mm within three months under controlled composting conditions. Additionally, 90% of the organic matter in the plastic should be converted into carbon dioxide within six months. Finally, the resulting compost must undergo biotoxicity testing to ensure it supports healthy plant growth.

The Challenges of Industrial Composting:

Industrial composting facilities face several challenges when it comes to effectively composting PLA. The temperature of the compost needs to be consistently maintained at around 60℃, requiring specialized equipment. Regular watering and automatic aeration are also necessary to support the survival of microorganisms within the compost. These requirements add to the complexity and cost of PLA composting.

Low Recycling Rates:

Despite the growing popularity of PLA as an eco-friendly alternative, the recycling rate in Taiwan remains disappointingly low, currently standing at only 5-6%. This low rate highlights the need for improved recycling infrastructure and public awareness campaigns to encourage proper disposal and recycling of PLA products.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Increase Public Awareness: Implement education campaigns to raise awareness about the proper disposal and recycling of PLA. This can include providing clear instructions on how to identify and separate PLA plastics from other types of plastic waste.
  • 2. Enhance Recycling Infrastructure: Invest in the development of recycling facilities that specialize in processing PLA plastics. This would include the establishment of end-market solutions, such as manufacturers who can effectively recycle PLA and create new products from the recycled material.
  • 3. Collaborate with Manufacturers: Encourage collaboration between PLA manufacturers and recycling facilities to create a closed-loop system. This would involve designing products that are easier to recycle and establishing channels for the collection and processing of PLA waste.

Conclusion:

The complex nature of PLA recycling stems from a combination of legislative gaps, limited end-market solutions, and the need for specialized composting conditions. To address these challenges, it is crucial to increase public awareness, improve recycling infrastructure, and foster collaboration between manufacturers and recycling facilities. By taking these actionable steps, we can work towards creating a more sustainable and efficient recycling system for PLA plastics.

Resource:

  1. "8/1起八大類場所不可使用PLA,為何明明是「生物可分解塑膠」卻被禁用? - The News Lens 關鍵評論網", https://www.thenewslens.com/article/189587 (Glasp)
  2. "Head Lynx Tour String Review - Tennis Warehouse", https://www.tennis-warehouse.com/learning_center/reviews/strings/head_lynx_tour.html?pcode=LTR17 (Glasp)

Want to hatch new ideas?

Glasp AI allows you to hatch new ideas based on your curated content. Let's curate and create with Glasp AI :)