Recycling (recovery & sortation)

NatureWorks LLC is comitted to responsibly introducing Ingeo™ biopolymer into any market and region. We are working 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 Titus MRF Services 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 to ensure that Ingeo can be uniquely identified as new technologies for sorting come on-line.

 


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 recycled in any significant quantities:

  • 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 32% (1).

Why aren't more of these 2 plastics being recycled? And why aren't all of those other plastics being 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.

 
 


IDENTIFYING INGEO IN THE RECYCLE STREAM

There has been some 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 introducing Ingeo to the market. One technology that has been demonstrated time and time again to effectively sort PLA from the plastics stream is NIR optical sortation. 

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."
    • Eagle Vizion provides NIR optical sorting equipment that can sort PLA from mixed plastic streams.
    • 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".
    • Pellenc ST near-infrared sorters are used at the Titus MRF Services facility in Los Angeles and have been very effective at sorting out PLA for recycling from mixed plastic streams and MRF residuals.

    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."


    (1) The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, 2014 United States National Postconsumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report (2015) (PDF)

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