The Challenges and Potential Solutions of Recycling PLA and Plastics

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Sep 30, 20233 min read

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The Challenges and Potential Solutions of Recycling PLA and Plastics

Introduction:

Plastics are an integral part of our everyday lives, but their environmental impact has become a growing concern. In recent years, there has been a push to find more sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics, leading to the rise of polylactide (PLA), a biodegradable plastic derived from corn and potatoes. However, despite its eco-friendly properties, PLA faces challenges in terms of its recycling and proper disposal. This article aims to explore the reasons behind the restrictions on PLA usage and delve into the complexities of plastic recycling systems.

The Complexities of PLA Recycling:

PLA, like traditional plastics, falls into various categories based on its composition. However, the addition of PLA as a seventh category in the recycling classification system has caused confusion and inconvenience for people looking to properly dispose of their plastics. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive recycling concepts among the general public and inadequate backend composting mechanisms have led to PLA being treated as regular waste, even if it is correctly sorted. Additionally, unlike other plastics, there are currently no legislative measures in place in Taiwan to regulate the recycling and composting of PLA. This means that even if businesses are capable of recycling and producing compost, they cannot legally sell it, preventing the flow of both money and materials.

The Challenges of Recycling Plastics:

Plastics, including PLA, are not simple substances but rather complex mixtures of chemicals. They can contain processing aids, colorings, flame retardants, plasticizers, and unintentional additives that can affect the recycling process. This complexity poses a challenge for recycling systems as chemicals of concern, such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), can accumulate in recycled plastics. Some of these chemicals are regulated under the Stockholm Convention, but exemptions exist for their use in plastics. This raises concerns about the potential toxicity of recycled plastics and the need for comprehensive regulations to ensure their safety.

The Potential Solutions:

  • 1. Legislative Measures and Infrastructure: To address the challenges of recycling PLA and plastics, it is crucial to establish comprehensive legislative measures and infrastructure for the recycling and composting of these materials. This includes setting clear guidelines for sorting and processing PLA, as well as creating a legal framework for the sale and use of compost derived from PLA.
  • 2. Education and Awareness: Building a complete understanding of recycling concepts among the public is essential for the success of any recycling system. Education campaigns can help raise awareness about the importance of proper plastic disposal, including the specific requirements for recycling PLA. By fostering a sense of responsibility and knowledge about recycling, individuals can contribute to the overall sustainability of the recycling process.
  • 3. Collaboration and Innovation: Collaboration between government bodies, businesses, and research institutions is vital for driving innovation in plastic recycling technologies. Investing in research and development can lead to the discovery of new methods for effectively recycling PLA and addressing the challenges associated with its composting. By fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration, we can create a more sustainable and efficient plastic recycling system.

Conclusion:

PLA holds great potential as a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. However, its successful integration into the recycling system requires overcoming various challenges. By implementing legislative measures, raising awareness, and fostering collaboration and innovation, we can create a more efficient and sustainable plastic recycling system. It is crucial that we address these challenges urgently to ensure a cleaner and greener future for our planet. Let us all play our part in responsibly managing our plastic waste and supporting the development of a circular economy.

Actionable Advice:

1. Familiarize yourself with the specific guidelines for recycling PLA in your area and make a conscious effort to properly sort and dispose of PLA products.

2. Educate others about the importance of recycling and composting PLA, spreading awareness about its environmental benefits and potential challenges.

3. Support initiatives and organizations that are working towards developing innovative recycling technologies and advocating for comprehensive legislative measures for PLA and plastic recycling.

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. "Chemicals of concern: Overhaul urgently needed to fix 'failed' plastic recycling systems", https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/climate-energy/chemicals-concern-overhaul-urgently-needed-fix-failed-plastic-recycling-systems-2023-07-10/ (Glasp)

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