LCA study of PLA including Food Waste

bio-plastic bottles

LCA study of PLA including Food Waste.

(rapport: LCA study of PLA Packaging including Food Waste.
Ana Carolina Cruz Alarico – Chemical Engineering Department, Instituto Superior Tecnico, Lisbon, Portugal) 

The pressing need, in recent decades, to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the amount of food waste destined for landfills, has led to the wide development of bio-based plastics produced from renewable sources. However, the most important bio-plastic on the market, used to manufacture food packaging, is the poly(lactic acid) (PLA) produced by Total-Corbion. The analysis presented in this dissertation, is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study of packaging heavily contaminated with wet food residues, to determine the impact of packaging and food waste. 

The aim of this work is twofold: first, to analyse what might be the best end-of-life (EOL) option for PLA food packaging with food content and second, to determine which life cycle stage has the biggest impact. Therefore, by using the LCA methodology, a LCA cradle-to-grave was conducted for all the different food packaging systems, taking into consideration as final scenarios composting, incineration, anaerobic digestion and landfill. The present assessment shows that, incineration is more favorable for food packaging with low moisture content (<70%), such as: coffee cups, yogurt cups, coffee capsules. Industrial composting is more favorable for food packaging with high moisture content, such as tea bag and cucumber. Anaerobic digestion is the best option for all systems but it is unfortunately technically challenging. Lastly, landfill, is the worse option, from a LCA perspective, because even though PLA will remain inert in landfills, food waste decomposes into harmful air emissions.

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Goal and Scope LCA study of PLA including Food Waste

The goal of this LCA is to quantify the environmental footprint of different PLA food packaging products including the food waste through a cradle-to-grave LCA, focusing on the end-of-life options. It includes different disposal alternatives, such as incineration with energy recovery, industrial composting, anaerobic digestion and landfill. The reference flow, called functional unit, is considered as 1 kg of PLA packaging including food waste from households, as the comparison unit in order to promote equivalence between the systems. The SimaPro software was used as a tool to facilitate the LCA implementation. The database used for background processes was Ecoinvent v3.3. The PLA inventory data were developed and collected by Total-Corbion from the core data for sugar cane milling, lactic acid and polymer production from their factory in Thailand.

System Description
This study assesses the life cycle of food packaging using single-serve products, from the extraction and processing of all raw materials to the end-of-life of the food matter and its packaging system. The five different systems were chosen on account of the fact that this project seeks to address a wide range of products with different moisture and organic contents. In the case of the coffee cup, it was modelled to represent the dry biodegradable packaging without food contamination.
The system boundaries identify the life cycle stages, processes, and flows considered in the LCA and should include all activities relevant to attaining the above-mentioned study objectives. All the systems covered the full packaging life cycle, including primary material production, transformation into polymer resin, packaging manufacturing as well as end-of-life treatment. The waste management alternatives assessed in the systems are anaerobic digestion, composting, incineration and landfill.

bio-plastic bottles transparent
composting machine, compostable bottles

Conclusions LCA study of PLA including Food Waste.


For all three systems, the ranking observed never matches the ranking suggested by an interpretation of the EU waste hierarchy. This is mostly because composting impacts are higher than energy recovery by incineration. Unquestionably, landfilling is the worst waste management option for bio-waste. However, for the management of biodegradable waste diverted from landfills, there seems to be several environmentally favourable options. Incineration with energy recovery appears to be the best solution for coffee cups, yogurts cups and coffee capsules. For tea bags and cucumbers, incineration is not suitable due to the high amount of moisture content, and because of that composting is the best solution.
Taking the entire production chain into account, the LCA results show that the most significant impacts are related to the use phase, especially if a heating device is used, such as a kettle, coffee machine or refrigerator. Finally the influence of packaging disposal is very small in comparison with the rest of the life cycles.
Recovering the energy from bio-based packages is far more favourable than burning synthetic plastics because the carbon content of bio-based plastics does not stem from fossil sources. The bioplastics production for the replacement of a part of fossil-based plastics seems to be a real and effective strategy towards sustainable development. In fact, the displacing of conventional plastics with bioplastics can lead to considerable energy and GHGs emissions savings.
The AD of organic waste is clearly on the rise within the EU because its main advantages lies in converting organic waste into biogas, a renewable energy source. The next decade is likely to witness a considerable rise in research regarding anaerobic digestion of PLA.
Sensitivity analysis, show that some assumptions for several key input parameters are very important due to the uncertainty of all the input parameters.

PLA Bottle HPP treatment

PLA bottles HPP treatment
PLA Bottles HPP treatment

PLA bottle HPP treatment

Research rapport: Suitability Assessment of PLA Bottles for High-Pressure Processing of Apple Juice.

The aim of the present PET – PLA bottle HPP treatment study is to assess the use of polylactic acid (PLA) bottles as an alternative to PET ones for high-pressure processing (HPP) of apple juice. The treatment of PLA bottles at 600 MPa for 3 min did not cause alterations in the packaging shape and content, confirming the suitability of PLA bottles to withstand HPP conditions as well as PET bottles. Quantification of mesophilic bacterial and fungal load suggested HPP treatment can be effectively applied as an alternative to pasteurization for apple juice, and other juices, packed in PLA bottles since it guarantees microbial stability during at least 28 days of refrigerated storage. 

The headspace gas level did not change significantly during the 28 days of refrigerated storage, irrespective of the bottle material. Color parameters (L*, a*, and b*) of the HPP-treated juice were similar to those of the fresh juice. Irrespective of the packaging type, the total color variation significantly changed during storage, showing an exponential increase in the first 14 days, followed by a steady state until the end of observations. Overall, PLA bottles proved to offer comparable performances to PET both in terms of mechanical resistance and quality maintenance.

PLA bottles HPP treatment, the result:
Today, consumer choices are driven both by quality-related factors and by environmental sustainability aspects, which are especially related to the packaging system. The reduction of environmental impacts arising from the packaging is an effective strategy for the overall sustainability improvement, especially for products characterized by a high packaging relative environmental impact, such as juices and beverages. In this context, premium fruit juices processed with non-thermal technologies are available, but the possibility to couple a green processing technology with a green packaging system has not been exploited yet. The present study assessed the feasibility of employing PLA bottles as an alternative to PET ones, for the packaging and subsequent HPP treatment of apple juice. 

In a perspective of improving food chain sustainability, PLA and other bioplastics may replace conventional plastics for some specific uses, such as fresh and minimally processed products, offering sufficient performances able to maintain the shelf life standards. This study proved that PLA is a valid sustainable alternative to conventional PET bottles for the packaging and HPP treatment of apple juice due to its: 1-Biobased nature, 2- compostability/recyclability, 3- mechanical resistance and ability to restore the initial shape after HPP treatment, 4- protection offered to the product, which is comparable with PET for short-term storage. The rapport also proved the effectiveness of HPP for the stabilization of juices and demonstrated the potential of non-destructive gas measurement systems for the verification of diffusional properties of bottles.

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PLA and the circular economy

Compost machine for bio-plastic
biodegradable water bottles getting incinerated
recycling PLA

PLA and the circular economy

PLA and the circular economy, so-called “waste streams” and products at the end of their useful life form the basis for new ones products, instead of being thrown away. This lake comprehensive, sustainable approach replaces the linear one economy with a circular, biobased economy in which products are made from sustainable, natural resources and are reused and recycled as much as possible. At the end of their lives, these products then have a range of possibilities transform them back into raw material for new, added value product life cycles.

Multiple end-of-life options:

  1. Recycle and reuse
  2. Compost/biodegrade
  3. Incineration/renewable energy recovery
  4. Anaerobic digestion
  5. Feedstock recovery

Low cabon/ CO2 footprint
PLA bioplastics offer a significantly reduced carbon footprint versus traditional oil-based plastics. This is important for the health of our planet and is a growing concern among consumers, who are increasingly critical of the sustainability aspects of their purchases. As media attention grows and regulatory activity accelerates, biocontent in plastic will become an increasingly relevant issue for producers to address.

We distribute our biodegradable water bottles only within “closed-loop” venues, whereby used containers are collected on-site and undergo proper end-of-life processing. Our goal is to get 90% of the PLA bottles back after use, 90% of the time. Collecting the PLA bottles and send them to the right end of life option.

The Bottle model digester
The onside composting machine is a patented commercial biodigester that decomposes our compostable plastic water bottles and all food waste within 24 – 48 hours.
The onside composting machine reduces the mess, cost, and inconvenience of disposing of waste food. Instead of sending waste food to the landfill where it decomposes into methane, you can cleanly and safely break down our PLA biodegradable water bottles on site.

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Exploration of sorting and recycling PLA.

bio-plastic bottles resin
bio-plastic bottles end of life solutions
biodegradable water bottles recycling

CE Delft rapport ” Verkenning uitsorteren en recyclen van bioplastic PLA – September 2019″ 


– Recycling PLA.
Bioplastics fit well in a circular economy, especially if they are recycled as much as possible at the end of their lifespan (CE Delft, 2017a). Some bioplastics, such as bio-PET and bio-PE, are already partially recycled. They are also sorted out from the plastic consumer waste for recycling. The bioplastic PLA (polylactic acid), which is the third bioplastic used by volume as packaging material, is not yet sorted out for recycling. This study explored whether this is possible and what the costs, benefits and environmental benefits would be. The exploration focuses on the bioplastic PLA in the plastic packaging waste of consumers in the Netherlands, now and in 2030.

The focus on PLA in this analysis does not mean that PLA is better or more sustainable than bio-PE or bio-PET or other bio-plastics. This focus has been chosen purely because PLA is the largest bioplastic on the packaging market that is not yet sorted out for recycling. This study did not compare different bioplastics, but looked at an increase in PLA and other bioplastics according to the current market distribution.

– PLA volume in the market now and in 2030.
We estimate that the share of PLA in plastic packaging waste from households is currently 0.1 to 0.4% based on statements from manufacturers and measurement of waste.
PLA producer Total Corbion estimates that PLA could take a market share of 10 to 20% by 2030 from packaging that is not a bottle or a flask. In the total consumer packaging market this would be 7 to 15%. The transition agenda for plastics, drawn up as part of the government-wide program for the circular economy, aims at 15% virgin bioplastics by 2030. Translated with the share of PLA now in the packaging market and taking into account uncertainties, this provides a picture of the future of 1 to 8, 5% PLA in the packaging market by 2030.

Sorting PLA with NIR installations.
PLA can be sorted out with a NIR installation (Near InfraRed). Packaging is recognized optically on a belt and blown out of the waste stream after recognition. A test with German waste shows a sorting efficiency of 55%, but here use was made of packaging that is difficult to sort and sub-optimal system settings. NIR supplier TOMRA mentions a sorting efficiency for 3D PLA of 80-85%. These figures could be tested with Dutch waste by means of a sorting test with a source separator, an after-separator and a technology supplier.

Mechanical or chemical recycling of PLA and climate benefit.
The sorted PLA can be recycled both mechanically and chemically. Mechanical recycling of PLA is already applied to specific industrial waste streams that are quite clean. Chemical recycling is already being applied to production waste by Total Corbion in Thailand. Both routes lead to a reduction in the global climate impact
3 2.R82 – Exploration of sorting and recycling of bioplastic PLA – September 2019
of approx. 1.1 kg CO2-eq. per kg of PLA discarded, compared to incineration in waste power plants.

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bio-plastic bottles resin production
PLA bottles: CO2 output PLA compared to other plastics
CO2 reduction PLA bottles

Costs and benefits
In an analysis of the profitability of PLA sorting, the investment costs of a PLA sorting system and operational costs of PLA sorting have been estimated in dialogue with a number of current sorters. In addition, in dialogue with PLA producers, it was estimated how much sorted PLA material could yield if it is (chemically) converted back into new PLA. A distinction has been made between 3D PLA (containers) and 2D PLA (foil). Based on an average separation installation with a processing capacity of 50 ktonnes of plastic packaging waste, the net present value, payback time and the unprofitable top have been calculated for various percentages of PLA in the plastic packaging waste. This yielded the following results:


– With the current share of 0.1-0.4% PLA in the packaging mix, sorting out PLA is not economically profitable.
– Sorting out 3D PLA (trays and dishes) is economically more profitable than sorting out 2D PLA (foils).
– If the growth of PLA packaging were to concentrate on 3D-PLA, then, depending on the market price of lactic acid in particular, sorting would become profitable at 1 to 5% PLA in the packaging mix. The extra costs for sorting can then be paid from the proceeds from selling sorted PLA.
– With an optimistic share of 10% PLA in the packaging market, PLA recycling is economically attractive for sorters and recyclers because of the relatively high yields. The CO2-eq. Reduction of recycling of PLA is then approximately 16 kton / year compared to incineration in waste-to-energy plants (AECs).
This analysis must be explicitly seen as a first exploration, based on an average sorting situation. The situation may deviate positively or negatively at different sorters.


Policy conclusions
In order to achieve 15% bioplastics by 2030, it is probably also (temporarily) necessary to stimulate bioplastics. In addition, it is worth considering, for example, at 2% PLA in the packaging market, also stimulating the sorting and recycling of PLA. In the packaging market, the existing Packaging Waste Fund offers good opportunities for this, because it manages an administration of all packaging on the Dutch market and also collects the producer responsibility contributions. For example, it is conceivable that the government will (temporarily) finance a lower rate for bioplastics. In addition, the rate for bioplastics that can be recycled would differ from those for which this does not apply. This is in line with the policy of the waste fund that applies a lower rate for easily recyclable packaging from 2019. In this way, the government could stimulate bioplastics in the packaging market with little implementation costs.
With regard to stimulating sorting of bioplastics at sorters, a (temporary) subsidy scheme for sorting companies for the purchase of additional sorting installations is obvious. A subsidy via the Waste Fund for this is also possible, but more indirectly. Then it would be a (temporary) premium on the sorting rate when PLA is sorted. On the other hand, there is a plea for an arrangement via the Waste Fund that some of the sorters are abroad and that subsidizing companies abroad raises questions.

What are bioplastics

compostable caps
biodegradable milk bottle
Compostable packaging foil

– What are bioplastics?
– The term “bioplastic” refers to a plastic substance that is (wholly or partly) based on organic biomass instead of petroleum. Many bioplastics are biodegradable, which – in theory – is one of their biggest advantages (more on this later). However, it is easy to confuse some commonly used terms; although they are similar, many terms related to bioplastics are not interchangeable. 

What does biobased plastic mean?
This is a very broad term that means that a substance is derived in whole or in part from plant material. Starch and cellulose are two of the most common renewable raw materials used to make bioplastics; these usually come from corn and sugar cane. Biobased plastics are distinct from many more common petroleum-based polymers (visit our Plastics page for more information on conventional types of plastics). While many would assume that anything “biobased” is biodegradable, this is not the case.

What does biodegradable plastic mean?
Whether plastic is based on biomass or petroleum is a different question than whether it will biodegrade (a process in which microbes break down material when conditions are suitable). Technically all materials are biodegradable, but for practical purposes, only materials that degrade within a relatively short period of time (usually weeks to months) are considered biodegradable. As stated in the previous bulletin, not all bio-based plastics are biodegradable; bioplastics that do not degrade within a few months or years are sometimes referred to as ‘sustainable’. Conversely, there are petroleum-based plastics that will degrade faster under optimal conditions than their organic biomass counterparts.

What does compostable plastic mean?
According to the American Society for Testing and Materials, compostable plastics that are “ capable of biodegradation at a compost site are as part of an available program so that the plastic is indistinguishable and degrades to carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass at a rate that is consistent with known compostable materials (eg cellulose), leaving no toxic residues. “The requirement that there should be no toxic residue is one of the distinguishing marks between compostable and biodegradable. Also note that some plastics can be composted in home gardens, while others require commercial composting (where temperatures get much higher and the composting process faster).

Corn and sugar cane are two of the most popular raw materials currently used to make bioplastics, but there are many options to choose from. For example, Turkish inventor Elif Bilgin won a Science in Action prize in 2013 for making bioplastic from banana peels when she was 16 years old. Other renewable resources used include mango rinds and potato cutting waste.

– Which applications do bioplastics use?
Did you know that bioplastics have been around for at least 100 years? Corn oil and soybean oil were both used to manufacture auto parts for the Ford Model T. In more recent years, bioplastics have been used in a variety of consumer products, such as food packaging like compostable bottles, shopping bags, biodegradable utensils, and food packaging. These are called commodity plastics. For more food-related applications of bio-plastics look at www.compostable-packaging.eu   or www.plant-based-packaging.com Bioplastics can also be used for technical grade applications such as electrical and electronic enclosures and enclosures.

In short, bioplastics have found their way into almost every industry: automotive, electronics, food and beverage packaging, agriculture, textiles, healthcare … you name it! For more information on the use of plant-based compostable plastic bottles, visit our page.

– What are the benefits of bioplastics?
Overall, the biggest benefits of a fast-growing bioplastic industry are a smaller energy footprint and a less polluted ecosystem. The problem of overcrowded landfills and floating waste islands will – in theory – be tackled by increased use of bioplastics. However, as mentioned above, not all bioplastics degrade in a meaningful time frame; it is completely realistic that some biobased plastics will remain intact for decades, especially if they are not disposed of properly.
Bioplastics are also gaining in popularity because they do not contain bisphenol A (BPA) … you may recall seeing a lot of marketing for BPA-free products, especially in the food storage and baby food / accessory industries. For example, the European Union has banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, although it is not yet clear what the possible effects of BPA in consumer goods are. For now, most of the concern seems to be focused on BPA’s putative ability to disrupt hormonal activity. Bioplastics offer a potential alternative to this problem (although there is no guarantee that BPA will not be added to bioplastics in the future).
– Depending on the specific material, the manufacturing process of some bioplastics results in lower greenhouse gases than petroleum-based plastics. Polylactic acid (PLA), for example, is a bioplastic that can be produced with production equipment that already exists, making it more cost-efficient to make. However, this is not necessarily the whole life cycle of a plastic; in many cases, the methods used to grow renewable raw materials have a large footprint, and what happens after a bioplastic product is used can vary enormously.

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Biodegradable water bottles

bottles and preforms PLA
PLA bottles compostable water bottles

Biodegradable water bottles from PLAbottles.eu are, as far as we know, the only bottles that are completely 100% plant-based. We have a bottle, CAP, and label that is made from 100% plant-based material. The world copes with the problem of fossil plastics. Therefore the plant-based bottles of PLA bottles.eu are an excellent solution to reduce plastic pollution. Our bottles have multiple (6) end of life solutions instead of fossil plastic that has only one end of life solution.

Biodegradable water bottles from PLAbottles.eu

Our bottles are excellent for companies that host events and are in search of Biodegradable water bottles. That’s why our compostable water bottles will be perfect for our green revolution of reducing plastic waste in events, but also cruise ships, airlines and catering are more than welcome to try out our product.
Biodegradable water bottles are made from 100% plants. This way, your company can:
– reduce CO2 emissions,
– reduce the use of fossil single-use plastic,
– create a circular environment,
– and show the world that they are reducing the impact on the environment.

Putting our biodegradable water bottles on the market.

To get our PLA bottles on the market, we partner up with bottlers all over the world. To make the best plant-based water bottle out there. These bottlers can provide you with filled bottles of local water. Or we can work with current bottlers who already supply your company.

This is only a short introduction to our PLA water bottles, I like to show you more. Take a look at our website and see the different bottles we can supply to you. Besides our compostable water bottles, we are also manufacturing a patented composting machine that can compost all food waste and all compostable packaging, like our bottles. Within 24-48 hours, it turns into greywater that can be used as a fertilizer for the earth.

 We do; compostable wrapping, compostable shrinkwrap, compostable labels.

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