Bioplastics are looked at with hopes to improve our global plastic pollution issues. Bioplastics are made of natural, renewable resources and the resulting products can be biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable (each type of bioplastic has a different end-of-life option). These qualities ensure that bioplastics have the potential to be discarded in a more eco-friendly way. Today, let’s have a closer look at the possibilities of bioplastic recycling.
Currently, there are over 300 types of bioplastics. Similarly as with conventional plastics, you have to know what is the correct way to discard each type to do it right. As the recyclable bioplastic market is relatively new, for now, it can be still hard to find facilities that recycle them. Hopefully, as consumers demand more ecological solutions, the market will adjust.
Another downside is the consumer confusion and lack of education on how to correctly recycle each material. In some countries with a rate of recycling as low as 10% the consumers are not yet used to recycling the traditional materials, so it is improbable they will be aware of the correct form of distinguishing bioplastics from conventional plastics.
In general, it is considered that most bioplastics that are recyclable have to be recycled in a separate stream, and cannot enter the same stream as conventional plastics, as the final resulting product could be affected by changing its characteristics and specifications.
Looking at the positives, some bioplastics (e.g. bio-based PE and bio-based PET) can easily be recycled together with their conventional counterparts, which is acknowledged by the FEAD(1). And other types of bioplastics in development like polyethylene furanoate (PEF) are looking very hopeful, as they can be used for food and drink packaging and they are 100% recyclable.
There are companies exclusively focusing on the collection, sorting, upcycling, and recycling of bioplastics. The example is a California based company Bioplastic Recycling founded in 2017, whose aim is to contribute to the transformation of the linear to the circular economy. They currently collect and recycle PLA, a bioplastic that is typically used for disposable foodservice products like cups, utensils, coffee lids, and straws, and their end products are sunglasses frames, bioplastic bags, and even 3D-printing bioplastic filament.