The European Commission has delivered the report A circular economy for plastics, which provides research insights from EU-funded projects to support policy development and funding decisions. The objective is to foster the use of pastics that could circulate with full transparency at high-value usage, while minimising the risks to human health and the environment. The report acknowledges that “bio-based plastics have become an increasingly feasible alternative due to improved processing technologies, availability of catalysts and microbial production strains“, supporting the transition towards plastic production from bio-based feedstock for the realisation of the circular economy in Europe.

According to the report, the transition to bio-based alternatives could not only help generate 14,000 full-time jobs, but also could offer environmental benefits related to climate change due to the carbon sequestration by renewable feedstock. Different tools can support the assessment of bio-based plastics’ environmental impact. However, this evaluation is still challenging, because “conventional Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) does not sufficiently take into account the after-use stage of a product, and assigns high penalties to bio-based materials for land use and fertiliser use even though they might be derived from agricultural waste”, says the report. Therefore, the Joint Research Centre is currently working on a LCA methodology, which aims at creating a level playing field for the environmental assessment of different feedstocks for plastic production.

Moreover, the document covers the entire plastics value chain and streghtens the importance of product design for use, reuse, repair, and mechanical, chemical, or organic recycling. According to the authors, “biodegradation under controlled conditions, such as organic recycling, fits into a circular economy through the idea of closing the biological cycle, if biological feedstock is used“. In addition, it explains how this systemic change can be supported by innovation in business models, collection systems, and sorting and recycling technologies.

While the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan does not sufficiently recognise the value of organic recycling to complete a succesful circular economy, this report gives a positive step towards further working on efficient waste management and driving the bioeconomic sector. European Bioplastics fully supports this vision and calls for a sound separate collection of all waste streams, including biowaste, to succesfully connect the bioeconomy and the circular economy.

EUBP looks forward to discussing the use of bio-based feedstock for the production of plastics as well as the benefits biodegradable plastics can offer in a circular economy context with the European institutions and Member States in 2019.

The study is available for download here.