Will Bioplastics Contaminate Conventional Plastics Recycling?
Despite the benefits of bioplastics over petro-plastics, many challenges lie ahead. Will bioplastic bottles contaminate PET recycling programs? NatureWorks’ PLA (polylactic acid) is already being made into a several beverage containers (such as milk jugs for Naturally Iowa, juice containers for Noble Juice, water bottles for Primo Water). Should the bottles be labeled as compostable or recyclable? NatureWorks touts its PLA as both recyclable and compostable and reports that independent technical studies indicate PLA is not a recycling contaminate. When mixed with PET, for instance, PLA only exhibited hazing and color affects on the PET at concentrations above 0.1% (1,000 ppm). PLA is not yet a contaminant because it has so little market share at this time.
When bioplastics are fully rolled out, how will they ultimately affect recycling of conventional plastics? How will consumers know to recycle or compost products? Currently bioplastics carry the #7 (OTHER) chasing arrow symbol, but this has limited value in educating consumers. The Society of the Plastics Industry resin code identification protocols stipulate that manufacturers have to “make the code inconspicuous at the point of purchase so it does not influence the consumer’s buying decision.” These questions need to be addressed before the recycling community will embrace bioplastics, particularly beverage containers.