Bioplastics (April 2014)

Did you know that Bioplastics can help reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Bioplastics can help reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

PLA is currently produced from plants which take in carbon dioxide and turn it into sugars which are stored as starch. The starch is then collected and processed to create dextrose which is then fermented with special bacteria to make lactic acid, the building block for PLA. In this way carbon dioxide is taken from the air and turned into valuable plastic.

Of course, some energy is used in growing the plants and processing the starch, but it is intended that through improved efficiency and engineering the process will become carbon neutral or even a carbon sink in the future.

Floreon is made by taking PLA and adding a special combination of other bioplastics at very low levels to boost performance and add value to this renewable material, taking its range of applications even further.

If used for energy recovery post use these renewable materials will simply release the carbon dioxide sequestered  by the plants back into the atmosphere in a ‘short carbon cycle’, unlike oil based plastics which release carbon that has been trapped underground as oil. At present, using PLA in place of oil-based PET results in 75% lower greenhouse gas emissions even if both end up in landfill .

Floreon can be processed at much lower temperatures than other plastics such as PET, saving energy in the manufacture of finished goods. Bottles and food trays can also be moulded and thermoformed at much lower temperatures. The additives in Floreon lubricate the melt making the material easier to process relative to unmodified PLA, whilst also boosting performance.

Biobased and biodegradable

Like unmodified PLA, Floreon is completely biodegradable. Whereas some additives for PLA are not suitable for industrial composting, all components of Floreon are compostable and don’t limit the end of life options available. This doesn’t mean that Floreon items will degrade ‘on the shelf’, but in the aggressive conditions of an industrial composter the material will be returned back to its natural elements, rather than ending up in landfill.

This is just one option for this material and other options including recycling, feedstock recovery (chemical recycling) and energy recovery also exist allowing the value of the material to be retained throughout many cycles of use, or used for clean energy generation.

Bioplastics can be recycled

The ability of common sorting systems to separate PLA based materials from mixed plastic waste has been demonstrated in independent studies by organisations such as the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and has also been highlighted by Natureworks on their website.

Floreon can be mechanically recycled, a common technique used for other plastics such as PET where items are effectively ground back to pellets for further use. Although progress is being made items recycled in this way commonly undergo some form of degradation and are reused for lower value applications like textile fibres.

Another possibility with PLA and Floreon is feedstock recovery (chemical recycling). In this process PLA poly(lactic acid) is converted back to the starting material (lactic acid)which can then be purified and used to make virgin polymer again, avoiding downcycling and preserving the value of the lactic acid through many cycles of use.

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