European Bioplastic actively represents its members vis-à-vis the EU institutions, making sure that the voice of the bioplastics industry is made heard in the context of ongoing EU initiatives of relevance. This includes participation in public consultations, preparation of position papers and participation in events.

European Bioplastics represents the whole value chain of the bioplastics industry. This ranges from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers and converters and leading brand owners to waste management companies. European Bioplastics has identified key issues at political and regulatory level that would need to be addressed to ensure that the bioplastics sector reaches its potential in Europe. These key issues are:

Access to feedstock/biomass

  • Guaranteeing the access of European industry to competitively priced agricultural feedstock and biomass in sufficient quantities and quality.
  • Establishing a level playing field for industrial use of biomass with an integrated EU policy approach for material and energy uses of biomass and feedstock.

Financial and political support/endorsement

Clear political commitment and support for bioplastics would provide a range of economic, social and environmental benefits to the European society. Therefore, governments and policy-makers should further encourage a market shift towards increased production and use of biobased products, in order to support and stimulate industry in Europe. This could involve incentivising use of biobased materials or industries and other policy tools.

Consumer awareness-raising and education

In order to boost the European bioeconomy, it is important that national governments and EU policy makers communicate to citizens the importance of a biobased economy and the benefits of products such as bioplastics.

In contrast to the areas of biofuels and renewable energies, there is currently no EU-wide framework for action to support the material use of renewable raw materials.

EUBP would strongly welcome the development of an integrated policy framework to coordinate both the material and the use of renewable resources for energy in the EU. Intelligent use cascades must therefore be developed to promote the most efficient use of resources. Use cascades add to the economic and ecological value of products. Europe will have difficulty in competing globally without sufficient economic and technological value creation.

There are however a range of past and upcoming initiatives that are of relevance to bioplastics. In 2012, the European Commission published its strategy paper “Innovation for sustainable growth: A bioeconomy for Europe”. The bioeconomy aims to activate the potential of biobased products and generate new markets and industries, while enhancing the sustainability of production and consumption. It remains the main EU strategy for biobased products and identifies bioplastics as one of the most promising markets for growth. The importance of the bioeconomy was also stressed by the European Parliament in their resolution on “Innovating for sustainable growth: a bioeconomy for Europe” (July 2013). Among other points, the resolution “points out that the bioeconomy industry produces many high added-value products, such as (…) plastics” and also acknowledges that this contributes to job creation. The Commission’s 2012 Communication on Industrial Policy also identifies bio-based products as an area where further investment should be encouraged. This was reiterated in the 2014 Communication on a ‘European Industrial Renaissance’, in which the granting of access to sustainable raw materials at world market prices for the production of bio-based products is one of the priorities set.

Furthermore, following the Commission’s 2013 “Innovation and Investment Package”, work is currently ongoing on a Joint Technology Initiative between the Commission and the biobased industry consortium on biobased industries. A first call for proposals has been launched. Resource efficiency has also been a priority for European policy makers over the past years. The “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe”, published in September 2011, proposes ways to increase resource productivity and decouple economic growth from resource use and its environmental impact. It illustrates how policies interrelate and build on each other. The Commission has also carried out a comprehensive review of its waste acquis. With regard to plastic waste, initial ideas by the Commission were put forward in the 2013 Green Paper on Plastic Waste. Biodegradable and biobased plastics were part of the analysis. Following this, the European Parliament adopted its response to the Green Paper in January 2014 through a resolution on a “European strategy on plastic waste in the environment”. The paper makes various positive references to biodegradable, biobased and compostable plastics, outlining that suitable measures should be adopted to promote them. The resolution also “stresses the need to build upon already recognised European standards (i.e. CEN 13432) in order to enable a clearer differentiation between degradable, biodegradable and compostable plastic products (…)”.

Following the review of the waste acquis, the Commission adopted its long awaited Circular Economy Package in July 2014, including a proposal to review EU waste targets, which was however withdrawn in early 2015 and a new, more ambitious proposal was presented at the end of 2015. The Communication of the Commission ‘Closing the loop – an EU action plan for the Circular Economy’ acknowledges that ‘bio-based materials present advantages due to their renewability, biodegradability and compostability’.

Environmental claims of bioplastic products should be specific, accurate, relevant and truthful. Furthermore, there should be independent third party substantiation for these claims.

European Bioplastics has published a detailed guide regarding environmental communication.

A label awarded in accordance with independent certification based on acknowledged standards guarantees that the product fulfils the criteria claimed. As bioplastics cannot be distinguished from conventional plastics by non-experts, reliable labelling helps the consumer to identify these products. It also informs the consumer of particular additional qualities the material /product possesses. Another advantage provided by compostability labels in particular is that they facilitate correct waste separation, collection and recovery.

Industrially compostable plastic materials or products certified according to EN 13432 / 14995 are allowed to carry the Seedling compostability label. This brand is owned by European Bioplastics. The independent certifiers DIN CERTCO (Germany) and Vinçotte (Belgium) carry out this certification process. An alternative is the ‘OK compost’ label issued by Vinçotte. It is based on the same standards.

The certifiers DIN CERTCO (Germany) and Vinçotte (Belgium) have also introduced labels showing the biobased carbon content of bioplastics. The measuring of the biobased carbon content is based on CEN/TS 16137.

Figure: The EUBP-Seedling and a biobased label by DIN CERTCO

Certification of biodegradable/compostable products is available from DIN CERTCO (Germany) or one of its co-operating institutes such as AfOR (UK), COBRO (Poland) and Vinçotte (Belgium). They link EN 13432 and EN 14995 to the ‘Seedling’ compostability label.

Biobased certification based on CEN/TS 16137 is available from:

  • DIN CERTCO (Germany)
  • Vinçotte (Belgium)
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A standard is the basis for a certification scheme. It clearly defines the criteria and the testing procedures for the material or product. Once the certifier confirms compliance with the defined requirements, the respective product can be labelled with the corresponding logo.

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CEN / TS 16137* is a testing standard that defines how the biobased carbon content in a material or product is measured.

EN 13432** and EN 14995 are the European norms for industrial compostability.

ISO 14040 – Life Cycle Assessment – focuses on describing the principles and framework of life cycle assessments.

ISO 14067 – Carbon Footprint of Products – aside from providing detailed information on how to measure and report on the carbon footprint of products (CFPs), it also gives some general guidelines on how to use carbon footprint claims correctly. This standard is heavily reliant on the ISO 14021 and ISO 14040 standards.

ISO 14020 series: The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) issued the ISO 14020 series on “environmental labels and declaration” in 1999. This series provides the main international guidelines to relevant “green claims” publications. The standard promotes three different types of environmental labels and declarations:

  • Type I environmental labelling (14024),
  • Type II self-declared environmental claims (14021),
  • Type III environmental declaration (14025).

* US-equivalent = ASTM 6866.

** US-equivalent = ASTM 6400

Comparing two different products is difficult as the corresponding assessment tools are limited. The CFP of two products can be compared, but comparing two different LCAs may have limited significance (different impact categories, interpretation, organisations, etc.). A sound comparison based on LCA can best be made for one product when switching from fossil to biobased plastics as a form of before and after assessment. This comparison will clearly show where the biobased solution is advantageous as long as it is procured by the same institution integrating the same impact categories.

Biobased plastics can potentially reduce dependency on fossil resources and greenhouse gases (GHG), increase resource efficiency and produce renewable energy. They support the bioeconomy by creating jobs within the EU and pose less risk to health and safety. Compared to conventional plastics, the production of bioplastics is still in its infancy and the potential for further improvement is enormous. Discussions about what form a fair and commonly accepted environmental impact assessment of bioplastics (or for that matter other bio-products) – not discounting untapped potential – could take are ongoing. Sustainability assessment schemes should be clearly defined, in line with existing regulations, voluntary and not overburden the industry (especially SMEs). What is more, they should concentrate on indicators backed up by commonly agreed measuring methods. Currently, there are two meaningful indicators that sustainability assessments of bioplastics should focus on, as they rely on common methodologies and standards:

  • biobased/renewable content (CEN/TS 16137, ASTM 6866)
  • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (ISO/TS 14067, GHG Protocol, PAS2050).

Further indicators could be added to assessment schemes in the future, when a common agreement about the measuring methodologies has been reached. The ongoing dialogue between policy, science and industry, will ensure, that a mature assessment concept will gradually evolve.

Biobased plastics have the unique potential over conventional plastics of reducing GHG emissions or even being carbon neutral. Plant growth absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using this biomass to create biobased plastic products constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation (carbon sink) can be extended over a period of time if the material is recycled.

The production and use of 200,000 tons of renewable PE, for instance, produces a saving of up to 920,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year, which is equivalent to the emissions produced by 1 million cars per year.

The carbon footprint of a product (CFP) can be measured by carbon footprinting or the life cycle assessment (LCA, standard ISO 14044). More information on how a carbon footprint should be established is set out in the ISO 14067 standard entitled the “Carbon Footprint of Products” published in 2013.

Biobased plastics have clear advantages over conventional plastics. They provide the same and in some cases better performance while also being based on renewable resources. Thus, the plastics industry will be able to move away from finite fossil resources in the future and take its place in the bioeconomy. Saving fossil resources and reducing GHG emissions are two inherent advantages that biobased plastics offer in contrast to conventional plastics. With use cascades biobased plastics can also contribute towards ‘closing the loop’ of a product thus helping to increase resource efficiency immensely.

Bioplastics are either more sustainable than conventional plastics or have the potential to be so. According to a study by the German Environment Agency “bioplastics are at least as good as conventional plastics”. The study also mentions that “considerable potential is as yet untapped” (ifeu/GEA, 2012).

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As with conventional plastics, this depends entirely on the application and the available infrastructure in the region where the product is to be recovered. Bioplastics are a large family of materials with widely varying properties. The particular end-of-life solution depends on the bioplastic and the application it was chosen for. Apart from all the waste streams suitable for conventional plastics, some certified biobased and biodegradable bioplastic products can also be composted.

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Waste management

Studies have proven that there is little risk posed by biodegradation of biodegradable plastics in landfills (Kolstad, Vink, De Wilde, Debeer: Assessment of anaerobic degradation of Ingeo® polylactides under accelerated landfill conditions, 2012). Most bioplastics remain inert in landfills, where they potentially sequester carbon. Landfilling remains a widely applied method of waste treatment in Europe. Forty-two percent of all post consumer plastics waste in Europe is buried in landfills and neither the material value nor the energy content of the plastic material is utilised. However, landfilling is an expiring technology and European Bioplastics supports all alternative measures to strengthen the recycling and recovery of plastics. There are better methods for dealing with plastic waste which should be broadly applied.

The largest share of marine litter is made up of plastics , which, when ending up in the seas or washed ashore, can pose a threat to living organisms, especially due to ingestion or entanglement. Marine debris originates from a variety of sources, with ineffectively managed landfills and public littering being the main land-based sources. In order to minimise and ultimately prevent further pollution of the marine environment the full implementation of EU waste legislation and an increase in the efficiency of waste management are crucial. Moreover, the introduction of a Europe-wide ban on landfilling for plastic products and appropriate measures to expand recycling and recovery of plastic waste are necessary.

The UNEP report on ‘bioplastics and marine litter’ (2015) recognises that polymers, which biodegrade on land under favourable conditions, also biodegrade in the marine environment. The report also states, however, that this process is not calculable enough at this point in time, and biodegradable plastics are currently not a solution to marine litter. European Bioplastics (EUBP) agrees with the report’s call for further research and the development of clear standards for biodegradation in the marine environment.

This issue needs to be approached by educative and informative measures raising awareness for appropriate ways of disposal and recycling. Littering should not be accepted for any kind of waste, neither on land nor at sea – including all varieties of plastics.

A product should be designed with an efficient recovery solution. In the case of biodegradable plastic items, the preferable recovery solution is collection with biowaste, organic recycling (e.g. composting) and the creation of compost (a type of humus which is beneficial for soil fertility). Designing a product ‘for littering of any kind’ would mean encouraging the misuse of disposal, which is unfortunately widespread. Consequently, biodegradability does not constitute a permit to litter.

However, the issue of pollution, especially marine pollution, is taken very seriously by the bioplastics industry; research is actively being conducted to provide further factual information in the immediate future.* Generally, when advertising products as biodegradable, a clear message should be communicated to consumers, who often misunderstand this property. A clear recommendation on product recovery is therefore important.

* According to UNEP (2005), figures estimate a total of around 20 million metric tonnes of plastic from both land and sea sources, with land sources (such as open landfills) making up 80 percent of the total figure.

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Waste management

Biodegradation is defined as the biochemical process by which materials decompose completely into substances such as water, carbon dioxide and biomass under the influence of microorganisms. However, the term “biodegradable” is not valuable if the timeframe and the conditions are not specified and related scientific data is not provided. Currently, there are no known, scientifically reliable test results for enzyme-mediated plastics, which provide evidence for biodegradability or compostability. Likewise, there has not been any documentation of enzyme-mediated plastic fulfilling the criteria of the EN 13432 standard.

Enzyme-mediated plastics usually neither look nor feel different from conventional plastics. However, when a product carries claims such as “this plastic degrades faster”, or “makes conventional plastics like PE or PP biodegradable” together with “organic additives” and “eco-friendly”, it is likely that the material is an enzyme-mediated plastic.

Enzyme-mediated plastics are not bioplastics. They are not biobased and they are not reported to be biodegradable or compostable in accordance with any standard*. Enzyme-mediated plastics are conventional, non-biodegradable plastics (e.g. PE) enriched with small amounts of an organic additive. The degradation process is supposed to be initiated by microorganisms, which consume the additives. It is claimed that this process expands to the PE, thus making the material degradable. The plastic is said to visually disappear and to be completely converted into carbon dioxide and water after some time.

* “Biodegradability” refers to a process during which microorganisms from the environment convert materials into natural substances such as water, carbon dioxide and biomass without the use of artificial additives.

Through corresponding specification and labelling. European Bioplastics advocates being as specific as possible when claiming biodegradability. For example, claiming industrial compostability according to EN 13432 is a clear and specific option. Corresponding certification and the ‘Seedling’ label substantiate the claim. The Seedling also clarifies the distinction between oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable – certified according to EN 13432 materials.

The underlying technology of oxo-degradability or oxo-fragmentation is based on special additives, which are purported to accelerate the fragmentation of the film products if incorporated into standard resins. The resulting fragments remain in the environment.

Biodegradability is an inherent characteristic of a material or product. In contrast to oxo-fragmentation, biodegradation results from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. The process produces water, carbon and biomass as end products.

Oxo-fragmentable materials cannot biodegrade as defined in industry accepted standard specifications such as ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, ASTM, D7081 or EN 13432.

A product must fulfil all the requirements according to EN 13432 in order for it to be treated in an average industrial composting plant with a 12-week composting cycle. All product components are tested (inks, glues, etc.). This includes an eco-toxicity test, during which the resulting compost’s effect on plant growth is examined (agronomic test).

Very short composting cycles may not be sufficient to enable a full disintegration. However, leftover scraps (usually lignocellulosics) in composting plants are sifted out and added to the next fresh compost batch where they fully disintegrate and biodegrade into water, carbon and biomass. The same is expected of plastic residues in case of incomplete disintegration during the first cycle.

Using biodegradable and compostable plastic products such as (biowaste) bags and packaging or cutlery increases end-of-life options. In addition to recovering energy and mechanical recycling, composting (organic recovery / organic recycling) becomes an available waste management option.

This appears to be of particular benefit when plastic items are mixed with biowaste. Under these conditions, mechanical recycling is not feasible for either plastics or biowaste. The use of compostable plastics makes the mixed waste suitable for organic recycling, enabling the shift from recovery to recycling (a treatment option which is higher in the European waste hierarchy). An increased amount of biowaste is collected and then used to create valuable compost.

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Industrial composting is an established process with commonly agreed requirements concerning temperature and timeframe for transforming biodegradable waste into stable, sanitised products to be used in agriculture. This process takes place in industrial or municipal composting plants. The criteria for the industrial compostability of packaging are set out in EN 13432. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.

There is currently no common European standard for home composting. Regulations, national standards, or certification programmes can be found in Italy (UNI 11183), Belgium (Vinçotte, OK compost home label) and the United Kingdom (European Bioplastics).

Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials degrade back into water, carbondioxide and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the environmental conditions which influence it (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, etc.) and on the material or application itself. Consequently, the process and its outcome can vary considerably.

In order to be recovered by means of organic recycling (composting)* a material or product needs to be biodegradable. Compostability is a characteristic of a product, packaging or associated component that allows it to biodegrade under specific conditions (e.g. a certain temperature, timeframe, etc). These specific conditions are described in standards, such as the European standard on industrial composting EN 13432. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.

Please note that in order to make accurate and specific claims about compostability the location (home, industrial) and timeframe need to be specified.

* Organic recycling according to EN 13432 comprises industrial compostability and anaerobic digestion.

No. Bioplastics can be biobased, biodegradable or both. Biodegradability is an inherent property in certain materials that can benefit specific applications (e.g. biowaste bags).

Biodegradable/compostable products should feature a clear recommendation regarding the suitable end-of-life for this product. European Bioplastics advocates the certification of biodegradable products meant for industrial composting according to EN 13432 in order to substantiate claims made.

Bioplastic materials or products that have been certified compostable’ according to EN 13432 or EN 14995 fulfil the technical criteria in industrial composting plants. These plants provide controlled conditions (humidity, aeration, temperature) for quick and safe compost production.

During the process the organic matter including biodegradable and compostable plastic products is converted to carbondioxide, water and biomass.

Compost is used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilisers. However, biodegradable and compostable plastics only play a minor role in the biowaste stream.

Organic recycling is defined by the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (amended in 2005/20/EC) as the

  • aerobic treatment (composting) or
  • anaerobic treatment (biogasification) of packaging waste.

The EU Directive refers to the harmonised European standards for the industrial compostability of plastic packaging, EN 13432. An equivalent standard has been approved by the European standardisation organisation CEN for the testing of compostability of plastics, EN 14995.

The effective organic recycling of biodegradable packaging would require the separate collection of biodegradable waste and legal access for certified compostable products to enter the respective systems.

As with conventional plastics, bioplastics need to be recycled separately (by stream type).

Bioplastic types for which a recycling stream already exists (e.g. biobased PE / biobased PET) can be easily recycled together with their conventional counterparts (PE and PET).

Other bioplastics, for which no separate streams yet exist, are very unlikely to end up in mechanical recycling streams due to sophisticated sorting and treatment procedures (positive selection).

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Waste management

If a separate recycling stream for a certain plastic/bioplastic type exists, the bioplastic can be easily recycled alongside its conventional counterparts (e.g. biobased PE in the PE-stream or biobased PET in the PET stream).

The post consumer recycling of bioplastics for which no separate stream yet exists, will be feasible, as soon as the commercial volumes and sales increase sufficiently to cover the investments required. New separate streams (e.g. for PLA) will be introduced in the short to medium term.

Numerous research projects and tests e.g. for PLA are currently underway in Germany (Re-PLA Cycle), in Belgium (r-PLA) and the USA.

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Waste management

Bioplastics are a diverse family of materials and depending on the material/application existing waste streams are an option. Drop-in solutions, such as bio-PE or partly biobased PET, can be recycled in existing streams. Biodegradable plastic products that have been certified compostable according to EN 13432 are suitable for industrial composting. All bioplastic materials offer (renewable) energy recovery as they contain a high energy value.

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Waste management

European Bioplastics and its members are committed to avoiding the use of harmful substances in their products. Many plastic products do not use any plasticisers and a range of acceptable plasticisers is available if necessary. The wide range of bioplastics is based on thousands of different formulas. This means specific information regarding a certain material or product can only be obtained from the individual manufacturer, converter or brand owner using the material.

If GM crops are used, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer remove all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastic product contains no traces of GMO. Should the bioplastic be used for e.g. food packaging, this packaging will be well suited for the purpose, and no GMO will interact with the contents.

Sustainable sourcing of feedstock is a prerequisite for more sustainable products.

That is why European Bioplastics supports:

  1. the general sparing use of resources and increase of resource efficiency (e.g. through use cascades),
  2. the implementation of good agricultural practice,
  3. corresponding third-party certification, and
  4. a responsible choice of feedstock: The use of food residues or by-products of (food) crops can contribute to more sustainable sourcing. In addition, the biorefinery concept is promising in transforming cellulosic, non-food biomass feedstock into a variety of chemicals, e.g. ethanol, lactic acid, or many others, which can also be used to manufacture bioplastics.

The use of GM crops is not a technical requirement for the manufacturing of any bioplastic commercially available today. If GM crops are used, the reasons lie in the economic or regional feedstock supply situation.

If GM crops are used in bioplastic production, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer removes all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastic product contains no genetic traces. The resulting bioplastic is therefore well suited to use in food packaging as it contains no genetically modified material and cannot interact with the contents.

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Renewable feedstock

Yes, in the future it will be and needs to be for production to remain efficient. However, bioplastics today are predominantly produced from carbohydrate rich crops i.e. food crops.

The bioplastics industry is putting significant effort into research and development to diversify the availability of biogenic feedstock of non-food crops. The industry aims to further develop fermentation technologies that enable the utilisation of other biogenic input based on non-food crop sources in the medium and long term. The production of cellulosic sugars and ethanols in particular are regarded as a promising technological approach.

Renewable resources are a replenishing but limited resource. However, there are various ways to ensure a sufficient supply to the industry with renewable resources for the production of biobased plastics.

These include:

  1. Broadening the base of feedstock: The bioplastics industry is currently working mostly with carbohydrate rich plants (sugarcane, corn, etc). Several projects, however, are looking into using plant residues or cellulose as second-generation feedstock (non-food crops).
  2. Increasing yields: Increasing the efficiency of industrial conversion of raw materials into feedstock, for example by using optimised yeasts or bacteria and optimised physical and chemical processes would increase the total availability of resources.
  3. Taking fallow land into production: There is still plenty of arable land in various geographical regions available for production, even in the European Union (mostly in the eastern member states).*

* Different sources come up with varying figures for „free“ arable land, the French National Institute For Agricultural Research gives 2.6 billion hectares of untapped potential (article in ParisTech, 2011), the nova-Institute calculates 570 million hectares based on figures of OECD and FAO (2009). The bottom line – there is an ample amount of unused land available.

According to the FAO, about one third of global food production is either wasted or lost every year. European Bioplastics acknowledges that this is a serious problem and strongly supports the food industry’s efforts to reduce food waste as a key element in fighting world hunger.

The main deficiencies that need to be addressed are:

  • logistical aspects such as poor distribution/storage of food/feed,
  • political instability, and
  • lack of financial resources.

When it comes to using biomass there is no competition between food/feed and bioplastics. About 0.01 percent of the global agricultural area is used to grow feedstock for bioplastics, compared to 97 percent used for food, feed and pastures.

Food crops such as corn or sugar cane are currently the most productive and resilient feedstock available. Other solutions (non-food crops or waste from food crops) will be available in the medium and long term with second and third generation feedstock under development.

There is no well-founded argument against a responsible and monitored (i.e. sustainable) use of food crops for bioplastics. Independent third party certification schemes can help to take social, environmental and economic criteria into account and to ensure that bioplastics are a purely beneficial innovation.

The global agricultural area and the way it is used shows that about 0.01 percent used to grow feedstock for bioplastics come nowhere near the 97 percent used for pastures and growing food and feed.

Of the 13.4 billion hectares of global land surface, around 37 percent (5 billion hectares) is currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70 percent, approx. 3.5 billion hectares) and arable land (30 percent, approx. 1.4 billion hectares). This 30 percent of arable land is further divided into areas predominantly used for growing food crops and feed (26 percent, approx. 1.26 billion hectares), as well as crops for materials (2 percent, approx. 106 million hectares, including the 680,000 hectares used for bioplastics)*, and crops for biofuels (1 percent, approx. 53 million hectares).

* The 2 percent comprise e.g. natural fibres (primarily cotton), rubber, bamboo, plant oils, sugar and starch. Of these 106 million hectares only 400.000 hectares are used to grow feedstock for bioplastics (primarily sugar and starch).

In 2014, the global production capacities for bioplastics amounted to around 1.7 million tonnes. This translates into approximately 680,000 hectares of land.

The surface area required to grow sufficient feedstock for today’s bioplastic production is therefore about 0.01 percent of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares.* This ratio correlates to the size of an average cherry tomato next to the Eiffel Tower (based on data by EUBP/IfBB/nova-Institute, 2015).

Assuming continued high and maybe even politically supported growth in the bioplastics market, at the current stage of technological development a market of around 7.8 million tons accounting for about 1.4 million hectares could be achieved by the year 2019, which equates to approximately 0.02 percent of the global agricultural area.

There are also many opportunities including using an increased share of food residues, non-food crops or cellulosic biomass that could lead to even less land use demand for bioplastics than the amount given above.

* Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover).

The emerging shift from crude oil towards renewable resources is driven primarily by the sustainable development efforts of the plastics industry. Finite oil resources and climate change constitute two broadly acknowledged challenges for society in the coming decades. Reducing oil dependency and mitigation of climate change are therefore two important drivers for the use of renewable resources.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide during their growth and convert it into carbon-rich organic matter. When these materials are used in the production of bioplastics the carbon is stored within the products during their useful life. This carbon is then released back into the atmosphere e.g. through energy recovery or composting.

Important forces driving the trend towards the use of renewable resources are the development of rural economies, innovation in the chemical and plastics industry, regulatory and policy framework conditions and consumer demand. Retailers and brand owners are also important drivers behind this trend, as they constantly seek to improve the environmental performance of their product portfolios.

Today, there is a bioplastic alternative to almost every conventional plastic. Bioplastics currently have the same properties as conventional plastics (e.g. thermoplastics) and often offer additional advantages, such as compostability, natural breathability etc.

Bioplastics are also being improved continuously with increased heat resistance, enhanced moisture barriers, greater stiffness and flexibility or improved durability.

Bioplastics are available in a wide variety of types and compounds that can be converted on the standard equipment generally used for processing conventional plastics.

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There is no common agreement on a minimal value yet due to varying regional regulations. In Japan an industry-wide commitment is in place which sets the ‘biomass margin’ at ’25 percent renewable material’. According to the USDA bio-preferred programme’s very broad margin, ‘the minimum share of renewable material ranges from 7 to 95 percent’ depending on defined product category rules.

Although there is no minimum value, clear labelling options are available. The certifiers, Vinçotte and DIN CERTCO, offer a stepwise labelling approach based on CEN/TS 16137 (or ASTM D 6866) which displays the biobased carbon content of a material or product.

Figure: Labels depicting a bioplastic products biobased share.

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Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another. There are three groups in the bioplastics family, each with its own individual characteristics. These include:

  • Biobased or partially biobased (nonbiodegradable) commodity plastics such as PE, PET, or PP (polyolefins, drop-in solutions) and biobased engineering plastics such as PTT, or TPC-ET
  • New biobased and biodegradable plastics, including PLA and PHA
  • New biodegradable plastics that are currently based on fossil resources such as PBAT and PCL.

Materials of the first group are biobased and non-biodegradable. They are used for a large variety of durable applications (from packaging to automotives).

Materials of the other two groups are biodegradable and – under particular conditions – compostable. This means they provide an extra benefit to particular applications such as packaging films or biowaste bags.

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Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another.

Bioplastics in general are partially or completely based on natural resources. The biomass used for biobased plastics today comes mostly from grain (corn), sugar cane, potatoes or castor oil. Other natural resources, such as cellulose and crop residues (corn stover, straw) will grow more important in the future.

About 80 percent of European consumers want to buy products which have a minimal impact on the environment (eurobarometer survey EC 2013).

What is more, according to the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) and the Straubing Center of Science (2009), consumers want to see more products made from bioplastics on the market. However, consumers are usually not very well informed about bioplastics posing a challenge when it comes to bioplastics penetrating the consumer market. Nonetheless, these hurdles are not insurmountable. Growing brand recall and corresponding information campaigns are contributing towards more consumers’ awareness and an overall tendency to purchase these products.

The demand for low carbon goods – one of the major benefits of bioplastics – is steadily rising. The global market for low carbon environmental goods and services is estimated at 4.2 trillion euros with the market share for EU companies amounting to 21 percent (UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills, 2012).

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Market drivers

The number of brand owners that apply bioplastics in their solutions is increasing steadily.

Prominent examples of big brands that have introduced bioplastic packaging are Danone (Actimel, Activia, Volvic), Coca-Cola (PlantBottle), and Ecover (cleaning products). The supermarket chains Carrefour, Sainsbury, Billa, Spar and Hofer offer different packaging products and/or shopping bags made of bioplastics. In the leisure/sport sector PUMA, for example, uses bioplastics, and in the automotive market, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes have introduced various bioplastic components in several car models. In the consumer electronics market, Fujitsu is a well known brand that uses bioplastics in some of its products.

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No. Bioplastics have a multitude of short-lived and durable applications. The term bioplastics covers a family of materials with a wide range of differing properties.

Biobased or partially biobased commodity plastics such as PE or PET are used for durable applications including car dashboards and mobile phone covers. Technical biopolymers like polyamides are used in machinery, automotive and sports equipment.

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Fields of application for bioplastic materials and products are increasing steadily. Bioplastics today are primarily found in the following market segments:

  • Packaging
  • Food services
  • Agriculture/horticulture
  • Consumer electronics
  • Automotive
  • Consumer goods and household appliances

Currently packaging is the leading market segment. However, automotive and consumer electronics are continuously coming up with new bioplastic applications. Furthermore, bioplastics will become broadly visible in the sports equipment and toys sectors and first applications are appearing in the construction industry (floor panelling, plugs or insulating material).

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The cost of research and development still makes up for a share of investment in bioplastics and has an impact on material and product prices.

However, prices have continuously been decreasing over the last decade. With rising demand, increasing volumes of bioplastics on the market and rising oil-prices, the costs for bioplastics will be comparable with those for conventional plastic prices.

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With the right legislative framework and market conditions in place, the European bioplastics industry could offer an immense employment growth potential. From 8,000 employees in 2013, the bioplastics industry could grow to 160,000 high-skilled jobs in 2025. This twentyfold growth is based on the assumption that bioplastics can take on 10 percent of the EU plastics production (about 5,7 million tonnes/p.a.) by 2025.* The bioplastics industry could provide new impulses for the development of rural areas in Europe by presenting new opportunities for the agricultural sector and consequently contribute to the reindustrialisation and employment growth in Europe. Feasibility studies showed that bioplastics could technically substitute about 85 percent of all conventional plastics (according to PRO BIP study conducted by the University of Utrecht), even though this is not a realistic short- or mid-term development but rather illustrates that bioplastics will be a significant part of the overall plastics market in the future.

* Extrapolation based on market data study conducted by EUBP, IfBB, and nova Institute (2013) and on the study „Gross employment effects in the European bioplastics industry“ by nova-Institute (2015).

In 2013, production capacities of bioplastics worldwide amounted to 1.6 million tonnes. Some 17 percent of these were produced in Europe – roughly 280,000 tonnes – accounting for about 8,000 jobs in the bioplastics sector across Europe.*

*Extrapolation based on market data study conducted by EUBP, IfBB, and nova Institute (2013) and on the study „Gross employment effects in the European bioplastics industry“ by nova-Institute (2015). 

As an important part of the bioeconomy bioplastics are a future lead market for the European Union offering job creation, development of rural areas and global export opportunities for innovative technologies.

The European bioeconomy sectors are worth 2 trillion euros in annual turnover and account for 22 million jobs in the EU. That is approx. 9 percent of the EU’s workforce.

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According to the PRO BIP study conducted by the University of Utrecht, bioplastics could technically substitute about 85 percent of conventional plastics, so this is not a realistic short- or mid-term development.

With a share of 1.7 million tons (2014) compared to 300 million tons total plastic production per year, bioplastics are still only beginning to penetrate the market. However, with increasing availability and a quickly expanding number of products in diverse market segments, bioplastics will become a significant part of the plastics market in the long run.

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Supply is well ensured to meet the growing demand in the short and medium term. However, it is difficult to make long-term forecasts due to the dynamic and innovative nature of the bioplastic market. A reliable legislative framework in the EU would be beneficial to further attracting investment and ensuring supply in the long run.

In recent years numerous joint ventures have been established. Planned investments in bioplastic production capacities have been made. Initial facilities producing various types of bioplastics are operating in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Additional facilities are currently being set up in different regions from Thailand to Italy to produce more bioplastics, including starch compounds, PLA, biobased PBS, PE or bio-PET. These investments and scale-ups are reflected in European Bioplastics’ market data, which show growth in capacity from 1.7 million tons in 2014 to roughly 7.8 million tons in 2019.

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Bioplastics are moving out of the niche and into the mass market. Although market penetration is just beginning, bioplastic materials and products are increasingly the material of choise.

Big brand owners including Danone, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Heinz, Tetra Pak and L’Occitane in the packaging market, or Ford, Mercedes, VW, Toyota in the automotive market have launched or integrated bioplastic products. With strong brand names driving the development, market penetration is gaining speed.

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Bioplastics today still represent well under one percent of the about 300 million tonnes of plastics produced annually. In 2014, the global production capacity amounted to around 1.7 million tons. But demand is rising with more and more sophisticated bioplastic materials and products entering the market. Big brand owners have introduced bioplastic packaging or biobased car elements for prominent brands.

By 2019, the production capacity is expected to almost quadruple to 7.8 million tons.

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The current market is characterised by high growth of about 20-100 percent annually and strong diversification. Bioplastics today still represent well under one percent of the about 300 million tonnes of plastics produced worldwide annually (Plastics Europe). However, there are numerous internal and external factors within the industry further encouraging the growth in bioplastics.

Internal factors include:

  • Advanced technical properties and functionality
  • Potential for cost reduction through economies of scale
  • New, cost-efficient recycling options for biodegradable products

External market factors include:

  • High consumer acceptance
  • Societal concerns about climate change
  • Price increase of fossil resources
  • Dependence on fossil resources

With a growing number of materials, applications and products, the number of manufacturers, converters and end users is increasing steadily. Significant financial investments have been made in production and marketing to guide and accompany this development. Bioplastics are a relevant and leading segment of the plastics industry.

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Bioplastics are used in packaging, catering products, automotive parts, electronic consumer goods and have many more applications where conventional plastics are used. Neither conventional plastic nor bioplastic should be ingested. Bioplastics used in food and beverage packaging are approved for food contact, but are not suitable for human consumption.

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Biobased plastics help reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources, which are expected to become significantly more expensive in the coming decades. Slowly depleted fossil resources are being gradually substituted with renewable resources (currently predominantly annual crops, such as corn and sugar beet, or perennial cultures, such as cassava and sugar cane).

Biobased plastics also possess the unique potential to reduce GHG emissions or even be carbon neutral. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. Using this biomass to create biobased plastic products constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation can be extended for a period of time if the material is recycled.

Another major benefit offered by biobased plastics is that they can ‘close the cycle’ and increase resource efficiency. This potential can be exploited most effectively by establishing ‘use cascades’, in which renewable resources are firstly used to produce materials and products prior to being used for energy recovery. This means either:

  1. using renewable resources for bioplastic products, mechanically recycling these products several times and recovering their renewable energy at the end of their product life or
  1. using renewable resources for bioplastic products, organically recycling them (composting) at the end of a product’s life cycle (if certified accordingly) and creating valuable biomass/humus during the process. This resulting new product facilitates plant growth thus closing the cycle.

Furthermore, plastics that are biobased and compostable can help to divert biowaste from landfill and increase waste management efficiency across Europe. All in all, bioplastics can raise resource efficiency to its (current) best potential.

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According to European Bioplastics, bioplastics are biobased, biodegradable or both.

The term biobased describes the part of a material or product that stems from biomass. When making a biobased claim, the unit (biobased carbon content or biobased mass content) expressed as a percentage and the method of measurement should be clearly stated.

Biodegradability is an inherent property in certain materials that can benefit specific applications, e.g. biowaste bags. Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials, with the help of microorganisms, degrade back into water, carbondioxide and biomass. When materials biodegrade under conditions and within a timeframe as defined by the EN 13432 norm, they can be labelled as industrially compostable.

Figure: Bioplastics’ material coordinate system, 2015.

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Our vision is that bioplastics drive the evolution of plastics and contribute significantly to a sustainable society.

In order to realise this goal, European Bioplastics’ mission is to align the bioplastics value chain and work in partnership with various stakeholders towards a favourable landscape which enables the bioplastics market to grow.

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Members & Membership

EUBP was founded in 1993 as Interessengemeinschaft Biologisch Abbaubare Werkstoffe e.V. (IBAW, International Biodegradable Polymers Association & Working Group). First, it constituted a German and later European represen- tation and platform for the leading companies in the biodegradable plastics industry. By 2005 the bioplastic market had developed many new materials and the focus of the association had broadened. As a result it was renamed European Bioplastics. Today, it represents about 70 members throughout the entire value chain of bioplastics.

These include:

  • Plastic converters
  • Bioplastics manufacturers and auxiliaries
  • Research, consulting, framework and others
  • (Industrial) end users
  • Plastic products distribution
  • RRM/intermediates RRM conversion
  • Machinery/engineering/equipment
  • Waste and recycling

Our members from all over the globe are engaged in the European market. About three quarters of our members stem from Europe. The remaining quarter consists of companies from Brazil, the USA, Japan and China.