Ahead of Total Corbion PLA’s involvement at Rethinking Materials, we were pleased to speak to their CEO, Thomas Philipon about their role in developing secure end-of life solutions through bio-plastics. 


What lessons have Total Corbion PLA learned from overcoming the challenges of integrating biobased materials into existing supply chains? How have you taken these learnings forward to grow the market offering and transform the industry?

We have learnt that partnership is key, throughout the value chain. We cannot achieve our goals in isolation and our Luminy® PLA products on their own do not in themselves make the world a better place. Only when we work together to replace less sustainable materials or develop new applications that are in themselves sustainable and together develop better and more secure end of life solutions, will we be making a real difference. By helping others and working together, we help ourselves and the environment.


Thomas Philipon

“At Total Corbion PLA, we believe that mechanical and chemical recycling should become viable, economically feasible and commonly used end-of-life solutions for PLA-based products”

– Thomas Philipon, CEO, Total Corbion PLA

Which new technologies are you seeing that have an impact on the supply chain? What would you like to see next?

In our view, all applications should be designed with their most suitable end-of-life option in mind, right from the start. The value chain within which we are operating should not be linear, but circular, meaning that ideally the end-of-life will feed into the beginning of the same lifecycle. This might require some encouragement amongst existing waste management infrastructures in the short term, but the longer-term benefits for all of us are already clear.

From a technological standpoint, it has already been widely proven that PLA bioplastics can be sorted from plastic waste very efficiently using industry-standard NIR (near infra-red) sorting technologies. Purities of 97% have been obtained using NIR sorting of PLA, higher than most traditional plastics.1 Another misconception is that PLA bioplastics contaminate the plastic recycling streams of traditional plastics. Various studies show that PLA does not contaminate the traditional plastic recycle stream any more than other traditional plastics. For example, research conducted in 2017 has shown that adding 10% PLA into polyolefin recycling streams does not have any different influence on the properties than adding 10% PET or PS to these streams2. Furthermore, no specific threats were found from PLA contamination in the PET recycling stream. Other substances like PVC and EVOH have a much greater negative impact on the quality of PET recycle.3

There are already several companies who are performing mechanical recycling of PLA waste, mainly from post-industrial or closed-loop environments. Since PLA is a relatively new polymer in the market, the associated volumes have not yet reached the critical mass required to sort PLA into a separate stream from post-consumer waste. In reality, many traditional polymers have also not yet reached a critical mass; PS, ABS, PC, PVC are also often not sorted and recycled.

At Total Corbion PLA, we believe that mechanical and chemical recycling should become viable, economically feasible and commonly used end-of-life solutions for PLA-based products. We are committed to developing the recycling value chain together with specialized PLA recycling companies to stimulate demand for PLA thereby increasing recycling rates for PLA-based products. This will have significant impact on the creation of a circular value chain, allowing us to move further away from the traditional linear model.


Can you share some examples of how collaboration and partnership with brands and global companies has helped to overcome a specific challenge?

Questions around end-of-life options remain a relevant and urgent global theme that all plastics – not just bioplastics – are under scrutiny for. Working together with our partner Sansu in Korea has been a fantastic example of how partnership throughout the value chain can create innovative and sustainable business models that provide direct answers to these questions. Sansu has launched a PLA-based water bottle, designed and developed with end-of-life in mind, which the consumer can give back upon receiving new ones. The infrastructure is already in place to retrieve these used bottles at the same time as supplying new ones. At Total Corbion PLA, we are currently undergoing trials at our PLA production facility in Thailand to chemically recycle these bottles back to original PLA polymers. We intend to launch Luminy® PLA made from post-consumer and post-industrial recycle soon. This is a significant achievement in closing the loop on yet another end-of-life option for PLA-based applications.


You’re joining us on the panel ‘Moving the Needle: Integrating Bio-Based Materials into Existing Supply Chains.’ Why is this an important and timely discussion? What will you be sharing in the session?

Bioplastics have been around for a while, but in this current landscape where legislation, public opinion and media coverage are all keenly focused on plastics and their impact on our planet, there’s never been a more relevant time for our industry. We have the opportunity to make significant contributions towards solving industry’s challenges while contributing towards a better world for generations to come. The key is to keep working together, across value chains, across industries, across cultures, to ensure that the entire value chain is sufficiently setup and ready to receive these solutions that technology promises to deliver.


What’s next for Total Corbion PLA?

While we continue to work together with our customers and brand owners to develop applications and encourage smart end-of-life solutions, we are also busy with the next steps around our new production plant. Last month we kicked off the engineering stage for our 100,000 tons per year PLA plant, anticipated to start-up in 2024 and to be situated in Grandpuits, France. This will be the first of its kind in Europe and will cater to the growing demand for Luminy® PLA bioplastic resins.


1 WRAP (2008) Domestic Mixed Plastics Packaging Waste Management Options. Available at: https://www.wrap. org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Mixed%20Plastic%20Final%20Report.pdf [Accessed: 10 November 2020].

2 Wageningen University & Research (2017) The effect of bioplastics on the recycling of post-consumer packaging waste. EUBP 12th Bioplastics conference, 28 November 2017, Berlin.

3 Wageningen University & Research (2016) Technical quality of rPET. Technical quality of rPET that can be obtained from Dutch PET bottles that have been collected, sorted and mechanically recycled in different manners. Available at: https://edepot.wur.nl/392306 [Accessed: 10 November 2020]


Thomas will join the panel discussion ‘Moving the Needle: Integrating Bio-Based Materials into Existing Supply Chains’ at the upcoming Rethinking Materials summit on May 19-20 and will be joined by:

Session Chair:
Nina Goodrich, Executive Director, GREENBLUE, USA

Rich Altice, President and CEO, NATUREWORKS, USA
Timothy Bauer, General Manager- Growth Ventures, FLUID QUIP TECHNOLOGIES, USA