On 16 January 2018, the European Commission published its Communication ‘A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’. According to the Commission, this proposal is an ambitious step towards making the European plastics system more resource-efficient and drive the change from a linear to a circular system. Bioplastics provide crucial impulses for innovation and the development of a sustainable, circular plastics economy by using alternative feedstocks and offering a wider scope of end-of-life options for plastic products. Both advantages have been generally recognised in the Commission’s Communication. However, the proposal fails to suggest concrete legislative measures to capitalise on these benefits.

European Bioplastics (EUBP) has put together a paper outlining a set of potential legislative measures and actions that will allow for bioplastics to unfold their full potential and contributions to an evolving plastics economy.

Using alternative, bio-based feedstock for the production of plastics:

Considering that even in a circular economy virgin feedstock will be needed, this demand should be met with the most sustainable options. In this context, EUBP advocates to consider bio-based resources as they will contribute greatly to defossilising the plastics economy and thereby to the transition towards a low carbon circular (bio)economy. Some proposed actions on EU level include:

  • Promote the use of bio-based materials for the manufacturing of packaging;
  • Define EU-wide feedstock sustainability criteria for bio-based plastics;
  • Ensure sustainability criteria for plastics feedstock are based on a level playing field vis-a-vis fossil based plastics;
  • Work towards new, harmonised rules to ensure that, by 2030, 10% of all plastic packaging materials placed on the EU market are bio-based.

Biodegradable plastics – specialised solutions in a circular plastics system:

While boosting mechanical recycling is one of the key aims of the Plastics Strategy, this target will be difficult to achieve as long as the largest fraction of municipal waste in Europe (40-50% bio-waste) is not being collected separately. Biodegradable plastics that are certified according to the harmonised European standard EN 13432 for industrial compostable plastic packaging evidently help to collect more bio-waste and to divert it from other waste streams, thereby reducing the contamination of mechanically recyclable waste with organic waste.

In this context, EUBP strongly welcomes the acknowledgment in the Plastics Strategy of the circular benefits provided by compostable plastics in targeted applications such as compostable plastic bio-waste bags. Unfortunately, the Commission misses the opportunity to outline concrete measures to support the use compostable plastics packaging solutions, which could be the following:

  • Define criteria for applications, where biodegradable plastics are more suitable than conventional plastics;
  • Work towards new, harmonised rules to ensure that, by 2030, a range of plastic packaging with food contact (especially perishable foods) or used for the collection of bio-waste can be organically recycled;
  • Restrict the use of ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics in the EU;
  • Facilitate the implementation of existing harmonised rules, definitions, and labels for industrially compostable plastics across the EU.

For more information, you can download EUBP’s position paper.