At the end of the materials’/products’ life cycle it is important to understand what options one has and how they impact the environment. There are several options for end of life for ArcBiox™ materials. They include all the same as for oil based plastics added by a few more environmentally friendly solutions. There is still much to do in terms of infrastructure to support all these end of life solutions and we are actively looking into this progress with our suppliers.
Recycling is an important part of the circular economy and ABM is currently working on data to support recycling ArcBiox™ materials.
One of the topics that has been discussed is how to separate different waste streams and what is the bioplastics effect in this process. NIR (Near-Infrared) is one of the processes where PLA can be detected in the waste stream. Titech is one of the main global players in the NIR technology.
2. Incineration (with energy recovery)
This is a global option for end-of-life. In many geographic areas composting is not supported by infrastructure and hence incineration is a viable option. The analysis made by one of our PLA suppliers (NatureWorks) showed no volatile and low residue when burning their polymer.
ArcBiox™ composites are compostable in industrial composting environments. In this environment the moisture and heat in the compost pile split the polymer chains apart, creating smaller polymers, and finally, lactic acid. As the polymer degrades the ArcBiox™ fibers are exposed to the environment and they brake down to the minerals. The microorganisms in the compost consume the smaller polymer fragments and lactic acid as nutrients. As a summary, what is needed in industrial composting is a combination of microorganisms, humidity and temperature.
Arctic Biomaterials Oy has certified one the degradable glass fiber materials with the Seedling mark Din Certco EN13432 as a proof of concept, more ArcBiox materials will follow in the future.
PLA based ArcBiox™ materials are not home compostable but ABM has developed a number of ArcBiox™ materials that are home- or even marine compostable.
4. Chemical recycling
The chemical recycling process also known as back biting is not very widely used today outside the US. One of our suppliers NatureWorks has recycled more than 17 million pounds of their Ingeo biopolymer in the US. In this process, called the hydrolysis process, the biopolymer is broken down into lactic acid. Following the hydrolysis process the lactic acid is then converted back to biopolymer resin.
In addition, there is an option of anaerobic digestion that means organic composting and forming of biogas. ABM together with its suppliers and partners are looking for developments in this area and what role ArcBiox™ materials could play in this area.