The Challenges of PLA Recycling and the Need for Improved Legislation

Alfred Tang

Alfred Tang

Oct 03, 20233 min read

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The Challenges of PLA Recycling and the Need for Improved Legislation

Introduction:

In recent news, it was announced that starting from August 1st, eight major categories of places will no longer be allowed to use PLA (polylactic acid) plastics. This decision has sparked curiosity among the public, as PLA is known as a "biodegradable plastic." However, despite its eco-friendly reputation, PLA faces challenges in terms of recycling and proper disposal. This article aims to explore the reasons behind this ban and shed light on the current state of PLA recycling in Taiwan.

The Complexity of PLA Recycling:

Traditionally, plastic recycling involves six major categories, which can already be confusing for people. Adding PLA as a seventh category only increases the confusion and challenges associated with plastic disposal. One of the main issues is that the general public has not yet fully grasped the concept of recycling, and the backend composting mechanisms are still not well-developed. Consequently, PLA, like traditional plastics, often ends up as waste. Even when PLA is correctly recycled, there are no companies that can reuse or transform it into compost.

The Lack of Legislation:

Unlike other plastics such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) or PP (polypropylene), PLA falls under the category of biobased plastics. These biobased plastics are derived from materials like corn or potatoes, making them more environmentally friendly. However, Taiwan has yet to legislate the recycling and composting mechanisms for PLA. This means that even if businesses were able to recycle and produce compost from PLA, they cannot legally sell it. Consequently, the flow of both money and materials in the recycling process is hindered.

The Requirements for Composting PLA:

To better understand the challenges associated with PLA composting, let's take the example of the EN 13432 standard. According to this standard, plastic materials that pass heavy metal testing and are placed in a controlled composting environment must disintegrate into pieces smaller than two millimeters within three months. Additionally, 90% of the organic matter in the plastic should be converted into carbon dioxide within six months. Finally, the compost produced must undergo biotoxicity testing to ensure that plants can grow well in it.

The Necessity of Proper Composting Facilities:

Composting PLA requires precise temperature control, with the compost's temperature being stabilized at around 60℃. Regular watering and automatic aeration are also necessary to maintain optimal living conditions for microorganisms in the compost. Unfortunately, the availability of such facilities is limited in Taiwan, which contributes to the low recycling rate of PLA, estimated to be only around 5-6%.

Actionable Advice for Improved PLA Recycling:

  • 1. Legislative Action: The government should prioritize the development of comprehensive legislation that establishes guidelines and regulations for PLA recycling and composting. This would provide clear guidance for businesses and incentivize them to invest in proper recycling infrastructure.
  • 2. Education and Awareness: Public awareness campaigns should be launched to educate people about the importance of recycling and the specific requirements for recycling PLA. Increasing awareness can encourage individuals to segregate their waste correctly and contribute to higher recycling rates.
  • 3. Investment in Composting Facilities: The government and private sector need to collaborate in establishing more composting facilities that are equipped to handle PLA and other biobased plastics. Increasing the availability of such facilities would facilitate the proper disposal and recycling of PLA, thus promoting a circular economy.

Conclusion:

The ban on PLA usage in certain locations highlights the need for improved recycling and composting practices in Taiwan. While PLA is considered a biodegradable plastic, its recycling and composting processes face various challenges. Legislative action, public education, and investments in composting facilities are crucial for overcoming these challenges and achieving higher recycling rates for PLA. By addressing these issues, Taiwan can take significant steps towards creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly plastic waste management system.

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)

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