PLA is marketed to consumers for its ability to degrade in composting systems. But an US startup sees mechanical recycling in the material’s future.
US company Bioplastic Recycling is developing recycling processes and end markets for recovered polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable polymer derived from corn, sugarcane bagasse or other organic resources. Presently, there is no large-scale recycling market for PLA.
Launched in June 2017, Bioplastic Recycling was part of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). The company has now moved operations to a larger, 10,000-square-foot facility in Torrance (LA), but it still has its administrative headquarters at LACI’s campus.
“We’re trying to really figure out – and I think everybody is – how bioplastics best fit into the industry and the ecosystem,” said Brian Chung, CEO of Bioplastic Recycling. “We want to be the first people there to provide that solution to close the loop for bioplastics, PLA specifically.”
Bioplastic Recycling is still in the R&D stage, collecting 20 to 50 tons per month of plastic, Chung said.
The company uses size reduction and lab-scale extruding and pelletizing equipment and is manufacturing small-scale trommels and washing systems currently. It is working with investors to obtain money for a wash line capable of cleaning 2 tons per hour.
Separation of PLA and PET is a challenge because both sink in float-sink tanks, so the company sees the need for a flake sorter.
Feedstock comes from commercial composters that consider PLA as contamination and a “secondary materials recovery facility” (MRF) in the LA area run by Titus MRF Services.
PLA is susceptible to thermal degradation when mechanically recycled, due to its low heat resistance property. This has led some companies to pursue technology to depolymerize the plastic to recover its base building blocks, for instance South Carolina company Zeus Industrial Products.
Along with its own ongoing R&D work, Bioplastic Recycling is partnering with other companies to solve challenges in mechanically recycling post-consumer PLA. Since before the official launch of Bioplastic Recycling, company leaders have been working with a Taiwan company that produces a PLA-based bioplastic.
The Taiwan company is willing to swap out virgin PLA for Bioplastic Recycling’s recycled resins. The goal is to develop formulations to produce recycled film for cheaper than virgin PLA film.
Bioplastic Recycling is looking at following end products: agricultural films, garbage bags, plastic lumber, sheets and others. Chung and Neri co-founded a separate company, called reCircular, to market products created by Bioplastic Recycling.