Does Floreon create Methane in Landfill?

Floreon is the worlds most versatile bioplastic and has a number of end of life options. Whilst Floreon can be recycled, used for energy recovery or disposed of via industrial composting some concerns have been raised about bioplastics if they end up in landfill.

Sadly not all plastic waste does get recycled and a lot of it will still end up in landfill. This is far from an ideal scenario for any plastic. One misconception about bioplastics however is that due to the environment inside a landfill, they may degrade to produce methane.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, over 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. If bioplastics in landfill were producing methane then there would be concerns about the effect on global warming.

But the reality is Floreon does not biodegrade in a conventional landfill site, and more the point neither does anything else. This is because a standard landfill site does not offer the climate needed to compost. PLA producers Natureworks have published a peer reviewed paper which demonstrates that their material (which makes up over 90% of Floreon) is stable in landfill conditions and does not produce a significant amount of methane or ‘biogas’ (1).

Whilst landfill is not a desirable end of life option, bioplastics like PLA and Floreon compare favourably to other ‘fossil’ plastics in terms of carbon footprint because they are derived from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the first place. Plants take in the carbon dioxide and convert it into sugars which can then be fermented to produce the building blocks for plastic. To reference Natureworks again, using PLA results in 75% less greenhouse gas emissions than the oil based plastic it replaces even if both end up in landfill (2).

(1) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options/Landfill 

(2) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/End-of-Life-Options

Are bioplastics using potential foodstuff?

A question we’ve been asked a few times at Floreon now, are bioplastics using potential foodstuffs to produce plastic? This is a concern which we’re happy to address…

From 2012 to 2017 the global annual production capacity of bioplastics will increase from 1.4 million tonnes to more than 6 million (1). This staggering increase is driven by many factors, the most relevant being both the availability and renewability of biomass. High consumer acceptance of renewable bioplastics makes them an attractive choice compared to fossil materials which are made from finite oil resources.

Bioplastics typically require a carbohydrate source for production. Carbohydrates can be fermented to produce the basic units (monomers) for further processing to make bioplastic. In the case of polylactic acid (PLA, the leading biodegradable and biobased plastic) corn starch is converted to dextrose which is then fermented to make lactic acid. The lactic acid is then converted to lactides for polymerisation to high performance polylactic acid.

The increasing volumes of bioplastic production have led to a debate about using potential foodstuffs (corn, sugar) to make plastic. In fact, Floreon has been asked on a few occasions; “Floreon is a corn-based material, is this using potential foodstuff out of the food chain that could be used to feed starving children?”

Our short answer to this is no. Growing food, feed and using pastures accounts for about 97 percent of the global agricultural area, biomass grown for material use only counts for approximately 2 percent, of this 2 percent – bioplastics account for less than 0.01 percent, and even to satisfy the predicted demand for 2017 this will only rise to around 0.02 percent (2). This difference in volume shows just how little biomass is used for bioplastics production and how it will have no effect on food and feed.

Looking to the future, a more diverse range of feedstocks are in development. Corn is currently the main carbohydrate source for PLA production since it is economical and abundant, but several new generations of feedstock are in development. In the short term, this will be diversified to other locally abundant sources such as sugar cane or sugar beet. Beyond this, second generation lignocellulosic feedstocks such as straw and waste biomass will be utilised. For the distant future, the agricultural step may be completely cut out as new technologies are developed to convert carbon dioxide or methane directly to lactic acid.

Further information on feedstocks for PLA can be found on the Natureworks website (3).

(1) http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

(2) http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/publications/EuBP_FactsFigures_bioplastics_2013.pdf

(3) http://www.natureworksllc.com/The-Ingeo-Journey/Raw-Materials#feedstocks

Floreon does… Blown Film!

A further demonstration of the versatility of Floreon, on equipment at the University of Bradford the material has been successfully used to produce blown film.

Blown Film Extrusion of Floreon

Blown Film Extrusion of Floreon

On a processing line used to run more typical materials such as polyethylene, Floreon formed a stable bubble and was collected as a clear and transparent film. From the pictures shown in this post it can be seen that Floreon looks as good as (if not better than!) the polyethylene used to set up the line without any adverse impact on stability.

Close Up of Floreon Film Extrusion

Close Up of Floreon Film Extrusion

The optimal blend of Floreon additives allowed the material to be extruded with lower load placed on the extruder compared to the basic material. Further tweaks are now in the pipeline but the trial was an excellent starting point for Floreon in this process, which is often difficult with some bioplastics.

Blown Film Extrusion of Polyethylene

Blown Film Extrusion of Polyethylene on Line Used for Floreon