From time to time it becomes necessary to repeat a few certainties about bioplastics, certainties that are actually self-evident but nevertheless sometimes are questioned by alleged experts. However, European Bioplastics (EUBP) is always happy to repeat and explain the correct facts. One certainty is the safety of products made from bioplastics. Bio-based as well as biodegradable and compostable plastics successfully meet all safety standards of the European Union (EU).
In the EU, plastic products that want to access the European market, especially when they get into contact with food, have to comply with strict regulations. These have to be met by bio-based as well as by conventional plastics. The relevant Commission Regulation, (EU) No. 10/2011, contains requirements for migration tests. A migration limit value indicates the maximum permitted quantity of an ingredient to transit into food. It ensures that food contact material does not pose a health risk to consumers. In addition to the migration test, the composition of multi-component materials is analysed. Only those substances and materials that have been assessed and approved to be safe are included in an EU list and may be used for manufacturing.
Biodegradable plastics certified for industrial composting according to EU standard EN 13432 must not exceed a fixed limit for heavy metals and other toxic and hazardous substances. Also, an ecotoxicity test is carried out in accordance with the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) rules. This test examines possible effects of industrial compost on plant growth and its toxicological harmlessness to microorganisms. Agricultural mulch films certified as biodegradable in soil according to EU standard EN 17033 must comply with strict SVHC (substances of very high concern) guidelines. This ensures that the films do not contain such harmful substances. In addition to a further test for nitrification inhibition, EN 17033 certification also includes a procedure to exclude negative effects on soil organisms such as earthworms. A standard for the home composting of carrier bags (prEN 17427) expected to be published soon by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) will summarize all test procedures once again. Products made of bioplastics thus undergo even more test procedures than conventional plastic products.
The claim that products made from bio-based plastics contain harmful chemicals is untenable because of the numerous tests that are required. Nevertheless, this is what the findings of a recent study published by a research group from the University of Frankfurt say. However, the methodology of the study, in which bioplastics products were subjected to migration testing, seems highly questionable as it differs significantly from the methodology of EU testing procedures. Besides, the test result of the Frankfurt study does not represent a specific characteristic of bioplastics. On the contrary, the different methodology leads to the same result when testing conventional plastic products.