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NatureWorks announces recycling partners, intention to sell lactides

Orlando-Bioplastics supplier NatureWorks LLC (Minnetonka, MN) is partnering with outside firms to augment reclaim and recycling of its material in the U.S. and Europe, saying the partner businesses will offer a competitive price for post-consumer polylactic acid (PLA) scrap, according to president and CEO Marc Verbruggen.

(Minnetonka, MN) is partnering with outside firms to augment reclaim and recycling of its material in the U.S. and Europe, saying the partner businesses will offer a competitive price for post-consumer polylactic acid (PLA) scrap, according to president and CEO Marc Verbruggen. Addressing the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Global Plastics Environmental Conference (GPEC; March 8-10; Orlando), Verbruggen said that a new company called BIOCOR, of which NatureWorks is a minority shareholder, will offer an outlet to recyclers or others who have gathered small or large quantities of post-consumer PLA. BIOCOR will then use a hydrolysis process to chemically break down the bioresin to its component lactic acid base.

In Belgium, NatureWorks is collaborating with a company called Galactic, which manufactures and sells lactic acid, to use its LOOPLA recycling process to break down PLA. Galactic, which bills itself as the largest lactic acid producer in the world, is building a 1000-tonne lactic acid plant based on PLA feedstocks, collecting both post industrial and post-consumer Ingeo intermediates and finished products to feed its process. Verbruggen expects a U.S. plant to come online in the next 24-30 months.

In addition, Verbruggen said that NatureWorks is working with the ASTM to develop a unique recycling number for PLA, which at this time falls under the "7" or other category. The company will also try to assist companies with ways to visually mark the material so it's easier to isolate in post-consumer sorting processes.

NatureWorks reports that since 2004, it recycled more than 17 million lb of off-grade post-industrial Ingeo plastic at its Blair, NE processing facility through hydrolysis. In 2005 in a bid to assist recyclers and collect material for hydrolysis, the company established a North American Buy Back program, where recyclers could sell bales of collected Ingeo bottles back to NatureWorks "until the market for recycled Ingeo has matured", according to information on its web site.

Recyclers have at times been critical of the company's material, saying it's often indiscernible from the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) they're trying to reclaim, with some saying that even small amounts of PLA contamination in a PET recycling stream can affect the polyester's properties.

Verbruggen also told the audience that NatureWorks will soon be selling lactides as a product, in addition to its PLA resin. At the start of 2009, the company completed an optimization of its fermentation technology. Last June, NatureWorks commissioned a doubling of capacity, taking it from 150 to 300 million lb. These maneuvers have left it with some excess lactides, which it will now sell back into the market. Tony Deligio

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