NAPCOR rejects joint recycling of PET and PLA

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Recycling, Pla

NAPCOR rejects joint recycling of PET and PLA
Combining recycling streams of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polylactic acid (PLA) containers could place the future of both in jeopardy, a leading trade body has cautioned.

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) has rejected the premise of recycling both materials in tandem over concerns of separation costs, increased contamination and yield loss. The group also warned about the impact any such move would have on recycled PET quality and processing.

Extreme caution

The trade group advocated “extreme caution”​ going forward, adding: “Today’s domestic PET recycling system can’t successfully absorb PLA containers, nor does this scenario offer a sustainable model for PLA.”

It further called on brand owners and the authorities to “to fully consider the impacts and the realities of the current situation when they make the packaging decisions that address their product requirements and sustainability goals.”

Tom Busard, NAPCOR Chairman, said: “We don’t doubt that PLA can be recycled but there are unquestionably some big issues yet to overcome. The current reality is that these issues transfer significant system costs and logistics burdens to the PET recyclers, impacting the viability and continued sustainability of their businesses.

“This solution not only jeopardizes the PET system, but is not an effective solution for PLA.”

Extra costs

A further issue, he continued, is that traces of PLA could be mixed with other out-sorts from the PET stream – including PVC and other resins – making marketing of the product even more “complicated”.

Because it is not easy to differentiate between PET and PLA containers by sight, companies may have to invest in new sorting machinery, said the body. One such system - near infrared (NIR) equipment - is believed to cost in the region of $200,000. Quality issues such as PLA getting stuck in the dryers during the PET reclamation process would also need to be addressed, it added.

Putting PET in jeopardy

Present volumes of PLA that can be extracted after the recycling process are too low to make up the critical mass required for a viable reclamation business model, said NAPCOR executive director Dennis Sabourin.

“The reality is that the PLA container becomes a contributor to PET bale yield loss which is already a big concern for PET reclaimers, as is the additional fraction of marketable PET which will invariably get sorted out along with the PLA,”​ he added. “So not only is there an increased cost for sorting and a higher yield loss, but without any practical way to aggregate the sorted material, or markets for it, it’s destined for landfill.”

The body said that many curbside recycling schemes relied on the market values of their materials and diluting their value goes against the need to bolster these programmes – especially in the current tough economic climate.

Sabourin commented: “NAPCOR has no wish to impede the recycling of additional resins including PLA, but we can’t sanction putting successful programs in jeopardy through the premature inclusion of other resins into the PET system.”

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