Press release

Presentation of research results on PLA waste in the waste stream

Hannover / 28.11.2017

Bio-based products, particularly in the form of packaging materials, are becoming increasingly common on the retail shelves and therefore also increasingly common in waste. This presents new challenges for our recycling systems. Many waste disposal companies are afraid that bio-based plastics could disrupt the established recycling networks. Until now, however, there have been very few substantiated investigations into the subject. The comprehensive work of the Fraunhofer WKI and the project partners shows that there are various options for the separate recycling of PLA. As a part of the research alliance “Sustainable Strategies for Recycling Products and Waste Materials from Bio-based Plastics”, funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Fraunhofer WKI Application Center for Wood Fiber Research HOFZET®, in collaboration with seven partners from science and industry, has spent three years addressing this topic. The recommendations for the waste-management treatment of bioplastics are now being presented, for the first time, within the framework of the 12th European Bioplastics Conference.

The quantity and variety of products made from bio-based plastics have been increasing steadily for years, particularly as regards packaging. The market forecasts are also extremely positive. In the future, bio-based plastics will become a quantitatively relevant constituent of our economic cycles. Even though the recycling of bio-based packaging is, at present, not yet profitable due to the lack of mass, there is nevertheless an urgent need for us to start examining the possibilities for its material recycling, in order to fulfill future utilization requirements.

For this reason, the HOFZET®, together with partners from science and industry, became engaged in a BMEL-funded project on the topic of "Sustainable Strategies for Recycling Products and Waste Materials from Bio-based Plastics". The project partners include:

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy technology (UMSICHT)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research (WKI)
  • Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts, IfBB – Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites
  • Knoten Weimar
  • Chemnitz University of Technology, Department of Lightweight Structures and Polymer Technology (SLK)
  • Bösel Plastic Management GmbH

The main objective of the research work was the development of strategies for the material recycling of industrial and post-consumer waste consisting of bio-based packaging in the established plastic recycling systems. The focus was thereby placed upon utilization options for the bio-based plastic polylactic acid (PLA). In the sub-project addressed by the HOFZET®, the researchers confronted the adaptation of a solvent-based PLA recycling process, with the aim of extracting high-quality PLA recyclates from heterogeneous PLA-containing post-consumer waste. PLA is one of the chemically novel bioplastics and is often utilized in the packaging sector. The waste disposal industry, however, repeatedly expresses concerns that PLA could disrupt the established plastic recycling systems.

The comprehensive work of the Fraunhofer WKI and the project partners shows that there are various options for the separate recycling of PLA. Together, we have compiled a results paper with the title “PLA waste in the waste stream”. This paper provides a sound foundation for the incorporation of PLA waste into the established recycling streams. The paper has thereby come at exactly the right time: On January 1st 2019, the revised version of the packaging laws will enter into force. This envisages, amongst other things, an increased utilization of packaging made from renewable raw materials.

The results paper will be presented for the first time at the 12th European Bioplastics Conference, which will take place on 28th and 29th November 2017 in Berlin.