European economies are confronted by new global challenges at the start of the 21st century. Faced with e.g. increasing competition from around the world, wealth, growth and employment for European citizens have to be secured. At the same time, solutions must be found for urgent environmental problems such as climate change.
An increased standard of living and a longer, healthier and more comfortable life than ever leads to increased global energy and raw materials consumption. With accelerating economic expansion, however, non-renewable raw materials like oil, coal and ores are depleting, prices increase and supply security becomes uncertain. At the same time, the impact on the environment is growing. To meet these challenges, a significant increase of industrial production efficiency as well as a transition to renewable resources is needed.
For the plastics sector, bioplastics can help fulfil these requirements by:
- shifting the plastics industry’s production to renewable feedstock, as well as
- enhancing the reuse and recycling of plastic products
- renewable feedstock
- reuse and recycling
A political and economical framework plays a central role in the market penetration of biobased plastics products. For this reason, the EU Commission has already intensively taken on the subject of biobased products in various EU strategies.
European top-level strategies supporting bioplastics
- Europe 2020 / Innovation Union
- Lead Markets Initiative for Bio-based Products
- Resource Efficiency Strategy
- Key Enabling Technologies
- FP7 & Horizon 2020
- Bioeconomy Strategy
- Circular Economy Package
Bioplastics, being a young technology, have not yet developed full competitiveness with established industries that have evolved and improved over decades. Support for increased market uptake would help many bioplastics products to reach economies of scale faster and generate sustainable economic growth in Europe.
Other countries and world regions have already identified bioplastics as a most promising opportunity for a transition towards a future oriented bioeconomy. Supportive mechanisms have been established, such as the “BioPreferred programme” in the United States or national investment programmes in several countries in South-East Asia.
To safeguard the EU’s competitiveness with regard to the bioplastics industry, the European Commission urgently needs to modify existing policies as well as those currently under development. Domestic production and the market uptake for bioplastics products need clear-cut support measures.
European Bioplastics has developed several key recommendations for European and national decision makers.
Industrial use of agricultural feedstock
- Europe needs a level playing field for all biobased industries to ensure the highest value creation and the strongest environmental benefits are furthered. A level playing field for the use of biomass in materials, compared to the use of biomass for energy, needs to be established. At European level diverse supporting instruments exist, such as subsidies, quotas, taxes, etc. All of which should either be bestowed equally to different industries using biomass, or none. At the moment the energy sector receives immense subsidies, and the bioplastics industry in comparison receives none – a condition distorting the effectiveness of biobased market segments. European Bioplastics supports the equal treatment of all pillars of the bioeconomy and is strictly against political discrimination or preference for specific biobased industries.
- Renewable feedstock must be available in sufficient quantities, at a suitable and guaranteed quality and at competitive prices. This can be achieved via the Common Agricultural Policy and by adapting the EU customs regime.
- Support all industry developments to unlock the potential for new competitive local sources of renewable raw materials – the so-called “biorefinery approach”, based on lignocellulose feedstock.
- Allow biobased plastic to enter all waste collection and treatment systems, including mechanical recycling and energetic recovery. Products certified compostable according to EN 13432 should gain unhindered access to biowaste collection systems.
- Improve the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD, 94/62/EC) by clarifying the definition of biodegradable and compostable plastics through strengthening the link to the harmonised European standard EN 13432.
- Complete ban of any additives claiming to make polymers biodegradable, but lacking significant substantiation of actual biodegradability. Such additives hinder organic and mechanical recycling of post-consumer plastics and do not offer any advantage for the environment and waste management. European Bioplastics advocates improving sorting technology in order to exclude these additive-plastics at an early stage of waste collection.
- Value bioplastics and recycled plastic content equally in all measures promoting the increase of plastic recycling and use of recyclates.
- European-wide ban on landfilling for plastic products and supporting measures in order to increase recycling and recovery of plastic waste.
- Define measures to reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags and exempt bioplastic bags to drive waste diversion and resource efficiency as well as the general development of the bioplastics industry.
- Allow EU Member States flexible use of economic incentives (e.g. tax exemptions, funding mechanisms) for bioplastics during the market introduction phase.
- Put the priority recommendation of the Ad hoc Advisory Group of the “Lead Market Initiative for Biobased Products” into practice, including suggestions for measures on communication, finances, public procurement and market access.
- Support innovation and research on biobased products and bioplastics through the “Horizon 2020” funding programme. Ensure a relevant and balanced budget for research and demonstration activities for biobased industry production.
- Support Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the area of bioindustries and technology initiatives in related areas such as biotechnology or Key Enabling Technologies (KETs)
- Inform the public and the end consumer on the benefits of bioplastics through public-private information campaigns and standardised product labels; support marketing and trade.