eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

PLA Recycling in Taiwan

Posted by Luke on August 21, 2010

I spent last week in Taiwan which explains my lack of posting any eco ramblings recently.  It was a very quick trip for a long flight, but it was an important one to talk with some suppliers and learn more about the Taiwan PLA market.  Taiwan produces a huge amount of PLA products and was one of the first countries to begin working with NatureWork’s resin.  Taiwan has very flexible manufacturing processes which are prime for testing small runs of products to build market demand.  Manufacturing processes in the U.S. typically require 10x the investment and typically don’t allow for small production runs.  I’m not saying that one is better than the other, it’s just the state of the situation.

One thing I couldn’t get a good answer on during my trip was regarding their progressive movement to recycle PLA.  That’s right, I said recycle, not compost.  The Taiwan government is going as far as mandating the recycling of PLA containers.  The main reason for this is that they don’t have a very well built out composting structure so they need to find other alternatives to divert their waste from landfills.  They mandated the use of PLA containers, to a large degree in take-out restaurants, and now they have to figure out how to help consumers properly dispose of them.  Recycling is their answer.  Apparently they are going to invest in the recycling infrastructure so PLA can be optically sorted from PET.  But I still am wondering under what timeline they are operating, and if they are going to invest enough to outfit every single material recover facility (MRF).

I definitely wish the U.S. government had the funds to upgrade the hundreds, maybe thousands, of MRFs across America to optical sorting technology.  I just don’t see that happening in my lifetime which means we’ll be fighting the recycling and composting battle for decades to come.  The best things we can do are to educate consumers about how to properly recycle, continue investing in the composting infrastructure, and demand manufacturers to use products with recycled content (this will build the market demand for recycled materials and make them more cost competitive).

On a different note, if you’ve never visited Taiwan, it’s a beautiful country with great people.  Here are a couple pictures…

A view of Taipei 101, the largest building in the world, from my hotel room

This is a restaurant / art gallery we ate lunch at that was built by a famous artist. It sort of looked like a Taiwan version of a Rainforest Cafe, but with expensive art for sale.

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