Germany – Yogurt producer Danone is teaming up with NatureWorks and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on a new recycling option for polylactic acid (PLA) after switching to the bioplastic for its Activia product in Germany.
Danone is the first European manufacturer to switch from traditional packaging to PLA for a leading yogurt product. PLA has been criticised for not living up to its eco-friendly label once it has been thrown away, but the world’s leading producer of PLA, US-based NatureWorks, is working on a new end-of-life option for its Ingeo material.
After working with Danone to change the pack material from polystyrene to PLA, NatureWorks CEO Marc Verbruggen said: ‘Now we’re continuing our collaboration to create a new option for recovery of the package after use.’
Converting PLA back into lactic acid is still relatively new, but now becoming a commercial reality. Belgian lactic acid producer Galactic has built a 1000-tonne plant based on PLA feedstock that will enable the chemical recycling of Ingeo.
NatureWorks claims that because Ingeo can be turned back a virgin raw material resource, it compares well to other plastics recovery systems that typically produce lower-value materials.
However, this potential benefit can only be realised if the systems are put in place to collect enough PLA packaging to generate critical mass. Without this, the options for are limited to landfill, clean incineration or industrial composting.
PLA is nevertheless claimed to be an environmentally friendly option for manufacturers. Quoting an independent life cycle analysis conducted in Germany, NatureWorks said Danone’s switch from polystyrene to PLA had reduced the carbon footprint of Activia packaging by 25% and cut fossil resource use by 43%.
NatureWorks, Danone and WWF are working to achieve the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) for the new packaging. The ISCC seal guarantees that the entire Ingeo supply chain meets rigorous social and environmental criteria.
Danone has moved over to Ingeo for about 80% of its Activia products in Germany. It plans to expand the use of the packaging to the other products sold under the brand, including drinks, fruit puree and larger unit-sized yogurt.