Recycling of Bioplastics: Routes and Benefits

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Recycling of Bioplastics: Routes and Benefits Fabio M. Lamberti1 · Luis A. Román‑Ramírez1 · Joseph Wood1 

© The Author(s) 2020

Abstract Continual reduction of landfill space along with rising C ­ O2 levels and environmental pollution, are global issues that will only grow with time if not correctly addressed. The lack of proper waste management infrastructure means gloablly commodity plastics are disposed of incorrectly, leading to both an economical loss and environmental destruction. The bioaccumulation of plastics and microplastics can already be seen in marine ecosystems causing a negative impact on all organisms that live there, ultimately microplastics will bioaccumulate in humans. The opportunity exists to replace the majority of petroleum derived plastics with bioplastics (bio-based, biodegradable or both). This, in conjunction with mechanical and chemical recycling is a renewable and sustainable solution that would help mitigate climate change. This review covers the most promising biopolymers PLA, PGA, PHA and bio-versions of conventional petro-plastics bio-PET, bio-PE. The most optimal recycling routes after reuse and mechanical recycling are: alcoholysis, biodegradation, biological recycling, glycolysis and pyrolysis respectively. Keywords  Bioplastic · Chemical recycling · Poly(lactic acid) · Poly(hydroxyalkanoates) · Bio-PE · Bio-PET

Introduction Although the large scale production of plastics only dates back to the 1950’s, they have become vital materials used in a huge variety of everyday life applications [1]. The plastic industry has grown exponentially due to both, the variety of plastics available and the relatively cheap production from petroleum. In general, plastics offer excellent mechanical and barrier properties with a low bulk density and inertness, making them superior materials for a wide number of applications. A 2014 report estimated that an astonishing 311 MT of plastic was generated in a single year, which consumed 6% of world oil production as feedstock for polymer synthesis [2]. Of the total amount of plastic, 26% by volume was used in packaging applications and only 5% of which was recycled for subsequent use, deriving in an economic loss of £62–92 billion [2]. Annual plastic production is estimated to double by 2034, and by 2050 is estimated to reach 1124 MT which would consume 20% of the world oil production [2, 3]. * Joseph Wood [email protected] 1



School of Chemical Engineering, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

The proportion of different polymers that make up global non-fibre plastic production is as follows: polyethylene (PE) (36%), polypropylene (PP) (21%), polyvinylchloride (PVC) (12%), polyurethane (PUR), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polystyrene (PS) (