Bio-based plastics are increasingly appearing in a range of consumption products, and after use they often end up in technical recycling chains. Bio-based plastics are different from fossil-based ones and could disturb the current recycling of plastics and hence inhibit the closure of plastic cycles, which is undesirable given the current focus on a transition towards a circular economy.
In this paper, this risk has been assessed via three elaborated case studies using data and information retrieved through an extended literature search. No overall risks were revealed for bio-based plastics as a group; rather, every bio-based plastic is to be considered as a potential separate source of contamination in current recycling practices.
For PLA (polylactic acid), a severe incompatibility with PET (polyethylene terephthalate) recycling is known; hence, future risks are assessed by measuring amounts of PLA ending up in PET waste streams.
For PHA (polyhydroxy alkanoate) there is no risk currently, but it will be crucial to monitor future application development.
For PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a particular approach for contamination-related issues has been included in the upcoming market introduction.
With respect to developing policy, it is important that any introduction of novel plastics is well guided from a system perspective and with a particular eye on incompatibilities with current and upcoming practices in the recycling of plastics.