The new project ‘Closing the loop’ between Total Corbion PLA and Sansu, recycling PLA waste water bottles, is the world’s first commercial PLA recovery.
Total Corbion PLA is a joint venture between TotalEnergies and Corbion producing a biobased and compostable polymer called Polylactic acid (PLA).
To reach a circular and climate neutral economy, more sustainable products are required. Using alternative feedstock is one of the tools including biobased and recycled content.
For innovative materials like PLA, a fully biobased material, no recycling stream currently exist even if it is technically mechanically and chemically recyclable. The project “Closing the loop” is a first answer to this issue.
What is “Closing the loop“?
Total Corbion PLA and Sansu built a process to close the loop of PLA bottles. Sansu (Republic of Korea) collects PLA waste bottles at their consumers including restaurants and hotels. After different processing steps, shredding, dust removal, r-PLA flakes, r-PLA pellets are obtained.
These r-PLA pellets are then provided to Total Corbion PLA plant in Thailand (Rayong). The chemical recycling process can start. The r-PLA pellets are depolymerized to obtain the monomer and then included in the production line together with virgin lactic acid. The normal polymerization step will occur with this mix of virgin lactic acid and lactic acid from waste bottles. Using the mas balance method, Total Corbion will provide PLA grades of 20% recycled content. This new chemically recycled PLA can now be used to produce bottles again. The loop is closed!
Why is this project promoting sustainability?
PLA is a biobased and compostable material reducing our dependence on fossil resources and the emissions of GHG. Recycling PLA increases even more its sustainability profile. No virgin feedstock is needed.
Chemical recycling of PLA is even more energy efficient than producing from the virgin feedstock. The real advantage of chemical recycling is that the quality of the products with recycled content is similar to the quality of products with virgin feedstocks. Chemically recycled PLA also have all the same regulatory approvals than virgin PLA including compostability and food contact.
Collecting the bottles, sorting them, recycling them and producing new bottles is a true circular process.
Sansu has already collected around 10 tons of PLA waste bottles. They plan to increase this number to 5 tons/month in 2022. Total Corbion expects this number to grow progressively with a final goal of setting a viable recycling stream for Post-consumer PLA.