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"Make toothpicks out of gold"? Biodegradable plastics are on the way
Time: 2020-5-9 13:25:54 Source:绿凯思科GETRECYCLING Author:GET营销中心 Hits:62

In January this year, China issued the "opinions on further strengthening plastic pollution control" (hereinafter referred to as "opinions"). This is known as "the most stringent Chinese version of plastic ban order", which requires some regions and areas to prohibit and restrict the use of non degradable disposable plastic products.

 

"One of the core ideas of this policy is to replace non degradable materials with degradable materials," Wang Wenguang, executive vice president and Secretary General of Shenzhen polymer industry association, said in an interview with adsalecprj.com He believes that this policy is a great opportunity for the degradation plastics industry.

 

Wang Wenguang is also the first expert in the field of bioplastics research and development who proposed the concept of "bioplastics".

 

Interpretation of plastic restriction order: degradable plastics welcome spring

 

Degradable plastic bag is the first choice in the future

 

For example, the alternatives include degradable plastic bags, cotton textile bags and paper bags, Wang said. He believes that because consumers used to use plastic bags in the past, and cotton fabric bags are heavier, it is expected that degradable plastic bags will be the first choice in the future.

 

Recently, the government also asked for opinions from the society on the specific categories of "plastic prohibition order". Wang Wenguang said that there were further clear provisions in the policy this time. For example, there had been controversy on whether non-woven bags could be used before. This policy did not list non-woven bags in the specific categories of prohibited use.

 

Wang explained that although the non-woven bag is made of non Degradable Polypropylene, it can be recycled many times. In contrast, ordinary plastic bags are also non degradable, but can only be used once, so they are listed as prohibited.

 

Disposable non degradable plastic bags will not be used.

 

In addition, according to Wang Wenguang, he also put forward some opinions on "opinions on further strengthening plastic pollution control". For example, the original policy forbids the use of plastic straws. After he put forward suggestions, this policy only lists non degradable disposable plastic straws as the specific category prohibited, which means that plastic materials can still be used for degradable straws.

 

Hainan is expected to take the lead in the promotion of degradable plastics

 

In terms of plastic pollution control policies, Hainan Province is a local government with relatively early policy formulation. Wang Wenguang believes that there are two main reasons: on the one hand, Hainan Province is defined as an eco-tourism city by the state; on the other hand, Hainan itself, as an island, has geographical advantages and is easier to achieve closed-loop management.

 

As an island, Hainan is easier to carry out closed-loop management of plastics.

 

"However, although the policies of Hainan Province have been issued earlier, there are also various difficulties in implementation. I believe that this national level policy will greatly promote the implementation of Hainan's policies."

 

In addition, he believes that Hainan Province also has advantages in degradable plastics industry. For example, Hainan announced the establishment of a full biodegradable plastics industry demonstration base at the beginning of last year to vigorously promote the development of the biodegradable plastics industry. "At present, there are many degradable plastics enterprises in Hainan, from this point of view, there is a great chance that degradable plastics will take the lead in promoting in Hainan in the future."

 

In addition to Hainan, several other provinces and cities are actively cooperating with the state's plastic pollution control policies to launch specific implementation plans. For example, Hebei, Jilin and Guangxi provinces have issued local "plastic restriction order" opinions. "At present, Guangdong Province is also drafting relevant policies, such as Shenzhen." Wang Wenguang revealed.

 

He said that when formulating specific implementation plans, local governments must first follow the national policy framework, and can only be stricter than the national policy, and can not be looser than the national policy.

 

Currently, the main Degradable Plastics: fully degradable PLA, PBAT

 

At present, the market is full of expressions about various degradable plastics, such as fully degradable plastics, partially / partially degradable plastics, bio based plastics, fully biodegradable plastics and compostable plastics.

 

To this end, Wang Wenguang explained that degradable plastic refers to the plastic that can completely degrade into small molecules at the end of its service life. "Degradable plastics can be divided into two parts, one is fully degradable plastics, the other is partially degradable plastics, such as polyethylene plus starch, or polyethylene plus calcium carbonate, which belong to partially degradable plastics." He said.

 

"Before 2000, the technology of fully degradable plastics was not mature, and some degradable plastics would be used in the market. However, in the past decade, fully degradable plastics have been industrialized, and some degradable plastics have not been popularized." Wang Wenguang said. "Because it is more difficult to recycle some degraded plastics after conversion."

 

According to his explanation, the current term "degradable plastics" basically refers to fully degradable plastics, while fully degradable plastics refer to fully biodegradable plastics. All biodegradable plastics are realized by composting. Therefore, Compostable Plastics also refer to all biodegradable plastics.

 

In addition to the above concepts, there is also a concept called "bioplastics", which was proposed by Wang Wenguang. According to his definition, bioplastics is the general designation of bio based plastics and biodegradable plastics.

 

"Bio based plastics are plastics made from biological sources, but they are not necessarily degradable. For example, nylon 1010 made from castor oil is a non degradable bio based plastics. Although it is not degradable, it uses a bio based source and has a low-carbon effect. And bio degradable plastics can be either petroleum based or bio based sources, but they are all degradable." Wang Wenguang explains.

 

For example, the biodegradable plastics PBAT and PPC are both petroleum based sources, while only PLA is both a bio based plastic and a degradable plastic.

 

According to reports, the two most commonly used biodegradable plastics are polylactic acid (PLA) and PBAT, with production capacity accounting for more than 95% of the biodegradable plastics industry. In terms of properties, PLA is close to high impact PP, while PBAT is close to PE.

 

Opportunities and challenges: material technology, capacity, price and Application

 

Material technology: China's PLA synthesis technology hinders PBAT's Global Frontier

 

Wang Wenguang revealed that in terms of degradation technology, the key lies in synthesis technology. He said that China's PLA synthesis technology is still in a bottleneck period.

 

"The difficulty of PLA synthesis technology lies in the purification of lactic acid. Because lactic acid cannot be directly synthesized into PLA, it needs to be first synthesized into an intermediate called lactide. At present, China's technical sticking point lies in the synthesis of lactide. Therefore, lactide can only be imported. At present, the domestic rate of PLA is only about 10%

 

It is reported that at present PLA is mainly imported from NatureWorks, the largest commercial mass-produced PLA bioplastics manufacturer in the world, with an annual output of 145000 tons; the other is total Thailand factory in France, with an annual capacity of 75000 tons and an actual output of 45000 tons. In China, the annual production capacity of Zhejiang Haizheng is 15000 tons and that of Jilin COFCO is 10000 tons.

 

Food packaging made with NatureWorks' PLA.

 

"Although China's PLA synthesis technology has not yet broken through, the opportunity lies in the huge market in China. In addition, the state attaches great importance to policies and guides the development of the industry. Therefore, China's biodegradable plastic market will only grow larger and larger." Wang added.

 

He also said that China's PBAT synthesis technology is currently at the forefront of the world, with a domestic rate of more than 60%. According to reports, the largest production capacity of PBAT is BASF, Germany, which is 75000 tons. In addition, there are 65000 tons of blue mountain Tunhe River and 60000 tons of golden hair technology in Xinjiang. Among them, blonde hair used to be mainly exported, "because China used less before, this time China will bring huge opportunities for domestic enterprises after starting to promote biodegradable plastics from the policy level." Wang Wenguang said.

 

Crack low production capacity and high price - expand production capacity, modify and recycle

 

In terms of production capacity, China's overall supply of biodegradable plastics is in short supply. "The demand for plastic bags, plastic straws and lunch boxes in China is up to 56 million tons, while the capacity of biodegradable plastics is only 500000 tons." Wang Wenguang said. Therefore, China's demand for biodegradable plastics is facing a huge gap.

 

 

In view of the production capacity, Wang Wenguang believes that we can expand production capacity, policy guidance and application. For example, it can be tried in a small scale, such as in the products that cannot be recycled, such as plastic bags, express bags, fast food boxes, etc. specified in the plastic restriction order; it can also be tried in the closed recycling environment, such as airplanes, trains, ships, etc.

 

However, due to the lack of production capacity and other problems, the price of biodegradable plastics is high. "Take pla for example, in 2009, the price of PLA was 20000 / T, and now it has risen to 40000 / T." Wang Wenguang said. In response to these problems, Wang Wenguang said that the main treatment methods are to expand production, fill modification, micro foaming modification and recycling.

 

For example, he used inorganic powder, starch, straw and other materials to fill and modify, which can reduce the price by about 30%; for example, through 0.1-10 μ m foaming, the density can be reduced without changing the strength, so as to reduce the use of materials and reduce the cost; in addition, the fully degraded plastic shopping bags and express bags can be recycled to reduce the price of each use.

 

In addition, transportation, especially import and export ocean transportation, is also a challenge, because the temperature and sunlight on the ocean may accelerate degradation. "Therefore, the degradation of materials and environmental factors should be considered during transportation, and the service life, technical life and inventory life of products should be paid attention to." Wang Wenguang said. Especially during this epidemic, transportation was limited to some extent, which also affected the circulation of biodegradable plastics.

 

"Make toothpick with gold": grasp the huge opportunity of disposable plastic packaging

 

In terms of application, biodegradable plastics are also facing embarrassment. Due to the short service life of biodegradable plastics, its best use is disposable plastic products. If it is used for durable plastic products, there will be performance problems due to product degradation.

 

So, the problem is, because disposable plastic products are often the cheapest plastic products, which means to make the cheapest products with the most expensive materials. To this end, Wang Wenguang uses a vivid example as a metaphor: "use gold as toothpick".

 

Although the application field is limited, Wang Wenguang believes that due to the huge demand of disposable plastic products in China, there is enough space for biodegradable plastics to focus on the application of plastic products only once. At present, what we need to do is to increase production capacity and reduce prices.

 

Based on the characteristics of biodegradable plastics, Wang Wenguang did not encourage the use of such materials to make durable goods. He believed that the main trend of biodegradable plastics should be to develop into disposable plastic products, especially disposable plastic packaging such as plastic bags, etc., while the use of some medical disposable plastic products should also carefully consider the problem that degradation will affect performance.

 

"In durable plastic products, if we want to reduce the use of petroleum based products and achieve environmental protection, we can use non degradable bio based materials, at least plants will absorb carbon dioxide in the growth process, which can reduce the carbon footprint, while petroleum based products emit carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process." Wang Wenguang said.

 

For example, Brazil's Braskem petrochemical company uses sugarcane to make bio based polyethylene, with an annual output of 400000 tons. The product performance is similar to that of petroleum based polyethylene, but it is more environmentally friendly than petroleum based polyethylene.

 

Brazil's Braskem petrochemical company uses sugarcane to make bio based polyethylene.

 

In terms of the principle of using degradable plastics, Wang Wenguang insists on recycling. "For products that can be recycled, use recycling closed-loop as much as possible, such as mineral water bottles, etc., and choose recycling methods to reduce resource consumption; for those that cannot be recycled, consider choosing biodegradable plastics, such as cigarette filter tip, plastic toothpick, plastic straw  , etc., to promote the use of degradable plastics." Wang Wenguang said.

 

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