FAQ2019-01-23T14:01:23+01:00
What is biodegradation?2017-06-19T14:50:21+01:00

Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials are metabolised to CO2, water, and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the conditions (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, presence of microorganisms, etc.) of the specific environment (industrial composting plant, garden compost, soil, water, etc.) and on the material or application itself. Consequently, the process and its outcome can vary considerably.

Related links:

biodegradable plastics

Are any contaminants or harmful substances left behind when compostable plastics biodegrade?2017-06-19T14:18:25+01:00

Compostable plastics that are tested and certified according to the European standard for industrial composting EN 13432 are required to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months. That means that 90 percent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. The remaining share is converted into water and biomass, which no longer contains any plastic. EN 13432 also includes test on ecotoxicity and heavy metal contents to ensure that no harmful substances are left behind.

How can I become a member of EUBP and what are the benefits of a membership?2018-07-19T15:01:08+01:00

Companies already involved in the bioplastics business sector but not yet a member of European Bioplastics should consider the advantages of connecting to our information and business platform and enlarging their network. Newcomers to our industry and/or the European market in particular can rely on European Bioplastics to help them get a foothold in the sector and benefit from our broad knowledge and contact database.

A membership offers access to a multitude of networking opportunities, visibility through representation across the field, business enhancement opportunities and support, access to comprehensive information resources, annual meetings and conference discounts.

The services available exclusively to members of European Bioplastics, include (but are not limited to):

  • A ‘members only’ knowledge database including reports, political communiqués and financial programmes;
  • Public relations and marketing measures and activities that increase awareness for bioplastics and our members’ brands and products;
  • Participation in association meetings and the opportunity to propose points of action for adoption;
  • Matchmaking/consulting services through European Bioplastics, which create synergies between companies looking for specific services within the bioplastics sector;
  • Reduced entry fees to industry events organised by European Bioplastics, and – where applicable – the opportunity to present products and network at the association’s booth.

For more details, please see the membership benefits leaflet or our statutes and membership fee code and membership application form.

What policies would be needed to pave the way for a full-scale market introduction of bioplastics in Europe?2017-06-22T14:17:42+01:00

The European bioplastics industry has a strong record for developing innovative technological solutions and aligning industrial objectives with environmental sustainability. In order for Europe to reinforce its position as a front-runner of resource efficiency and green growth, forward-looking sectors with strong environmental credentials and growth potential, such as bioplastics, need to be promoted.

European Bioplastics has identified a number of key issues at political and regulatory level that will need to be addressed to ensure that the bioplastics sector can unfold its full environmental, economic, and social potential in Europe. These key issues are:

  • Guaranteeing access to competitively priced agricultural feedstock and biomass in sufficient quantities and quality, and 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.
  • Providing financial and political support through supportive market mechanisms similar to the “BioPreferred programme” in the United States or national investment programmes in several countries in South-East Asia. Additionally, Europe should further encourage a market shift towards increased production and use of bio-based products, in order to support and stimulate industry in Europe. This could involve incentivising the use of bio-based materials or putting a price tag on fossil carbon through carbon pricing mechanisms.
  • Raising awareness and informing consumers about the importance of a transition to a bio-based circular economy and the benefits and essential role of products such as bioplastics in that shift.
What regulatory framework is there for bioplastics on EU-level and what initiatives are underway?2017-06-22T14:12:55+01:00

In contrast to the policy areas of biofuels and renewable energies, there is currently no EU-wide legislative framework to support the use of renewable raw materials for plastic solutions. The European Union has, however, started to acknowledge the important role of bioplastics to drive the transition to a circular economy and in decoupling economic growth from the depletion of fossil resources. A number of strategies and policy initiatives are currently underway that are relevant for the success of the bioplastics industry in Europe to unfold its full environmental, economic, and social potential, including.

  • Europe 2020 / Innovation Union
  • Lead Markets Initiative for Bio-based Products
  • Resource Efficiency Strategy
  • Key Enabling Technologies
  • Horizon 2020
  • Bioeconomy Strategy
  • Circular Economy Package

The Circular Economy Package, published in December 2015 by the European Commission, outlines plans that respond to some of the main challenges of our time: the waste of energy and resources produced by our linear economy. The underlying principle of the circular economy is that waste should be regarded as a valuable resource. Bioplastics can play an essential role in the transition to a circular economy and linking it to the bioeconomy. Therefore, the Circular Economy Package will need to address a range of economic sectors and introduce concrete provisions to stimulate the bioeconomy and use of bio-based materials and introduce additional economic measures to promote the market penetration of bio-based products, including Green Public Procurement and an EU-wide Eco-label, both of which consider a certain bio-based content of products, as well as the creation of a level-playing-field regarding access to bio-based feedstock in the EU.

As part of the Circular Economy Package, the European waste legislation is currently being revised, including the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the Waste Framework Directive, and the Directive on landfilling of waste, all of which are crucial elements in the transition towards a low-carbon, bio-based circular economy.

The Communication on the Circular Economy Package ‘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’. The Action Plan also outlines many other initiatives such as the revision of the Fertilisers Regulation, the creation of a Plastics Strategy, an Ecodesign Directive, and a potential revision of the Bioeconomy Strategy.

In January 2017, the European Commission presented its EU Roadmap for the Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy. Alternatives to fossil feedstock such as biomass or CO2 will be taken into account for the manufacture of plastics. Furthermore, diverse end-of-life options will be assessed. Making use of biodegradation properties of bioplastics will help to divert organic waste from landfill and will help reduce plastic leakage into the environment.

How are environmental claims of bioplastic products soundly communicated?2017-06-22T14:02:45+01:00

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.

What are the advantages of labels marking biobased property or compostability of bioplastics?2017-06-22T14:01:32+01:00

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 or product possesses. Another advantage provided by compostability labels in particular is that they facilitate correct waste separation, collection and recovery.

Which labels for bioplastic products do exist in Europe?2018-07-19T16:12:48+01:00

Labels referring to the bio-based content are for example DIN-Geprüft biobased, OK biobased (both offering different labels reflecting the product’s share of bio-based content), and the new logo by Nederlandse Norm (NEN), based on EN 16785-1.

Labels for industrially compostable products are, for example, the Seedling Logo, OK Compost, and DIN-Geprüft Industrial Compostable.

Labels proving home compostability are OK compost Home and the DIN-Geprüft Home Compostable Mark.

The label OK biodegradable Soil is certified by TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium in case a product meets the requirement of their certification scheme. DIN CERTCO awards DIN-Geprüft biodegradable in soil in accordance with CEN/TR 15822.

Figure: The EUBP-Seedling, a biobased label by DIN CERTCO and OK biodegradable SOIL by TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium

Which institutions are involved in the certification of bioplastics in Europe?2018-07-19T16:07:55+01:00

Certification of biodegradable/compostable products is available from TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium and DIN CERTCO (Germany) or one of its co-operating institutes such as AfOR (UK) and COBRO (Poland). The Seedling logo for industrial compostable plastic packaging (based on EN 13432) can be acquired from TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium or DIN CERTCO following successful certification.

Certification for bio-based products based on EN 16640 is available from DIN CERTCO (Germany) and TÜV AUSTRIA Belgium.

How do standard, certification and label work together?2017-06-22T12:28:43+01:00

A standard can be used as the basis for a certification scheme if 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.

What are the relevant standards for bioplastics?2017-06-22T12:25:50+01:00

Working Group 3 of the Technical Committee (TC) 411 of CEN has developed different standards for the measurement of the renewable content of biobased materials and, therefore, bioplastics. Most importantly, the European norm EN 16640 „Bio-based products – Determination of the bio-based carbon content of products using the radiocarbon method“, published in 2017, describes how to measure the carbon isotope 14C (radiocarbon method). In addition, the standard EN 16785-1 „Bio-based products – Bio-based content – Part 1: Determination of the bio-based content using the radiocarbon analysis and elemental analysis“ has been developed to also account for other bio-based elements in a polymer through elemental analysis.

EN 13432 “Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation” is the European standard for biodegradable packaging designed for treatment in industrial composting facilities and anaerobic digestion. It requires at least 90% disintegration after twelve weeks and includes tests on ecotoxicity and heavy metal content.

There is currently no international standard specifying the conditions for home composting of biodegradable plastics. However, there are several national standards, such as the Australian norm AS 5810 “Biodegradable plastics – biodegradable plastics suitable for home composting” as well as the French standard NF T 51-800 “Plastics — Specifications for plastics suitable for home composting” requires at least 90% degradation in 12 months at ambient temperature.

A new standard EN 17033 “Biodegradable mulch films for use in agriculture and horticulture – Requirements and test methods” (expected to be published in 2017) specifies the requirements for biodegradable films, manufactured from thermoplastic materials, to be used for mulching applications in agriculture and horticulture, which are not intended to be removed. A degradation of at least 90% in two years at preferably 25°C will be required.

Can the environmental impact of bioplastics and conventional plastics be compared?2017-06-22T12:02:53+01:00

Comparing two different products is difficult as the materials (fossil-based and bio-based) and production processes vary widely, and current assessment tools and methods are limited in their ability to make sound, substantiating comparisons. Whereas the carbon footprint of products (CFP or PCF – product carbon footprint ISO/TS 14067) of two products can be compared, the life cycle assessments (LCAs, ISO 14040 and 14044, EN 16760) of two different products may have limited significance as they can consider different impact categories, differ in scope, and leave ample room for interpretation. A sound comparison based on LCA can, however, be made for one product when switching from fossil to bio-based plastics as a way to assess the environmental impact of the product before and after the switch. Such comparison will clearly show where the bio-based solution is advantageous as long as it is conducted in the same way considering the exact same impact categories.

How can the environmental impact of bioplastics be assessed?2018-07-19T16:04:08+01:00

Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on fossil resources, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and increase resource efficiency. What is more, bioplastics are an essential part of the bioeconomy, which is worth 2 trillion euros in annual turnover and accounts for 22 million jobs in the EU. Although, compared to conventional plastics, the production of bioplastics is still small (about 1 percent of the entire global plastics production), the potentials for growth and further innovation and development are enormous. These yet untapped potentials of the bioplastics industry and the positive environmental, and socio-economic effects need to be considered when assessing the environmental impact of bioplastics – especially when compared to established conventional plastics. 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 (EN 16440, EN 16785-1 /-2, ASTM 6866)
  • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (ISO/TS 14067, GHG Protocol, PAS2050).

Life cycle assessments (LCAs) are an important tool for substantiating environmental claims (ISO 14040 and 14044) as they take into account many different factors such as energy use, GHG emissions, and water use. In order to get a complete picture of a product’s impact on the environment, the complete life cycle must be taken into account. Yet, LCAs can only shine a spotlight on a single product. They are not suitable for comparing different products as materials (e.g. fossil-based and bio-based) and process vary widely, limiting the ability to make sound, substantiated comparisons.

Do bioplastics have a lower carbon footprint than fossil based plastics? How is this measured?2017-06-22T11:52:01+01:00

Bio-based plastics have the unique advantage over conventional plastics to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plants sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during their growth. Using these plants (renewable biomass) to produce bio-based plastics removes CO2 from the atmosphere and keeps it stored throughout the entire product life. This carbon fixation (carbon sink) can be extended for even longer if the material is recycled.

Substituting the annual global demand for fossil-based polyethylene (PE) with bio-based PE would safe more than 42 million tonnes of CO2. This equals the CO2 emissions of 10 million flights aground the world per year.

The carbon footprint of a product (CFP) can be measured by carbon footprinting or the life cycle assessment (LCA, standard ISO 14040 and ISO 14044). 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.

Are bio-based plastics more sustainable than conventional plastics?2017-06-22T11:49:01+01:00

Bio-based plastics have the same properties as conventional plastics but also feature the unique advantage to reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources and to potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, bio-based plastics can help to decouple economic growth from the resource depletion and help the EU to meet its 2020 targets of greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Moreover, bioplastics can make a considerable contribution to increased resource efficiency through a closed resource cycle and use cascades, especially if bio-based materials and products are being either reused or recycled and eventually used for energy recovery (i.e. renewable energy).

When it comes to sustainability, 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 yet untapped” (ifeu/GEA, 2012).

What is the recommended end-of-life option for bioplastics?2017-06-19T15:58:28+01:00

Bioplastics are a large family of different materials with widely varying properties. Drop-in solutions, such as bio-based PE or bio-based PET can be mechanically recycled in established recycling streams. Biodegradable and compostable plastics can be organically recycled (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion). All bioplastics can also be treated in recovery streams (incineration and the production of renewable energy due to the bio-based origin). As with conventional plastics, the manner in which bioplastics waste is recovered depends on the type of the product, the bioplastics material used, as well as the volumes and recycling and recovery systems available.

How do bioplastics behave in landfills? Do they release methane gas?2017-06-19T15:55:48+01:00

Studies have shown 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.

Landfilling remains a widely applied method of waste treatment in Europe. Forty-two percent of all post consumer plastics waste in Europe is still buried in landfills, which means that the material value or the energy value of the waste remain unused. Therefore, European Bioplastics supports a restriction on landfilling of recyclable plastic waste in Europe in favour of strengthening measures to strengthen the recycling and recovery of plastics.

Are biodegradable plastics a solution for the problem of marine litter?2017-06-19T15:53:34+01:00

Marine litter is one of the main threats to the environment. The largest share of marine litter consists of plastics that originate from a variety of sources, including shipping activities, ineffectively managed landfills, and public littering. 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 around the globe 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.

In areas where separate biowaste collection exists, compostable biowaste bags can help divert biowaste – including the bags in which it is collected – from landfills, thereby reducing the amount of plastic bags entering into the marine environment in the first place. Yet, biodegradable plastics should not be considered a solution to the problem of marine litter. Littering should never be promoted or accepted for any kind of waste, neither on land nor at sea – including all varieties of plastics. Instead, the issue needs to be addressed by educative and informative measures to raise awareness for proper and controlled ways of management, disposal, and recycling.

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. Currently, there is no international standard available that appropriately describes the biodegradation of plastics in the marine environment. However, a number of standardization projects are in progress at ISO and ASTM level on how to test marine biodegradation processes.

Are biodegradable plastics a solution for the littering problem?2017-06-19T15:50:37+01:00

A product should always be designed with an efficient and appropriate recovery solution in mind. In the case of biodegradable plastic products, the preferable recovery solution is the separate collection together with the biowaste, organic recycling (e.g. composting in industrial composting plant or anaerobic digestion in AD plants), and hence the production of valuable compost or biogas. European Bioplastics does not support any statements that advertise bioplastics as a solution to the littering problems. Littering refers to careless discarding of waste and is not a legitimate means of disposal.

Biodegradable plastics are often regarded as a possible solution to this problem as they can be decomposed by microorganisms without producing harmful or noxious residue during decomposition. However, the process of biodegradation is dependent on certain environmental conditions (i.e. temperature, presence of microorganisms, timeframe, etc.). Products suitable for industrial composting (as defined according to the European standard for industrial compostability EN 13432) are fit for the conditions in a composting plant, but not necessary for those outside in nature.

Littering should never be promoted for any kind of material or waste. It is imperative for the consumer to continue to be conscious of the fact that no matter what type of packaging or waste, it must be subject to appropriate disposal and recovery processes.

Related links:

Waste management

Are enzyme-mediated plastics truly biodegradable / compostable?2017-06-19T15:47:46+01:00

Biodegradation is defined as the biochemical process by which materials metabolise completely to water, carbon dioxide, and biomass with the help 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 (European standard for industrial compostability) standard.

How can one recognize enzyme-mediated plastics?2017-06-19T15:45:58+01:00

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.

What are enzyme-mediated plastics?2017-06-19T15:42:58+01:00

Enzyme-mediated plastics are not bioplastics. They are not bio-based and they are not proven 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, which could not yet been proven by any available study.

* “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.

How can one distinguish oxo-fragmentable from biodegradable plastics?2017-06-19T15:37:38+01:00

Truly biodegradable plastics can be distinguished from so-called ‘oxo-fragmentable’ plastics through the use of labels and certification that adhere to acknowledged industry standards for biodegradation. The European standard for industrial compostable packaging EN13432, for example, is such a clear and specific option, and corresponding certification and labels such as the ‘Seedling’ logo (according to EN 13432) are available to substantiate the claims of biodegradability and compostability.

What is the difference between oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable plastics?2017-06-19T15:33:36+01:00

So-called ‘oxo-fragmentable’ products are made from conventional plastics and supplemented with specific additives in order to mimic biodegradation. In truth, however, these additives only facilitate a fragmentation of the materials, which do not fully degrade but break down into very small fragments that remain in the environment.

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

Oxo-fragmentable materials do not biodegrade under industrial composting conditions as defined in accepted standard specifications such as EN 13432, ISO 18606, or ASTM D6400.

Do (industrially) compostable plastics decrease the quality of the compost?2018-07-19T16:02:50+01:00

Compostable plastics that are tested and certified according to the European standard for industrial composting EN 13432 are required to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months. That means that 90 percent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. The remaining share is biomass, which no longer contains any plastic. EN 13432 also includes test on eco-toxicity and heavy metal contents to ensure that no harmful substances are left behind.

Very short composting cycles may not be sufficient to allow for a full disintegration of some types of biowaste as well as for some compostable plastic packaging. However, leftover scraps (usually ligno-cellulosics) in composting plants are sifted out and added to the next fresh compost batch for another composting cycle where they fully metabolise to water, carbon dioxide, and biomass.

What are the advantages of biodegradable/compostable bioplastic products?2017-06-19T15:25:56+01:00

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

Compostability is a clear benefit when plastic items are mixed with biowaste. Under these conditions, mechanical recycling is not feasible, neither for plastics nor biowaste. The use of compostable plastics makes the mixed waste suitable for organic recycling (industrial composting and anaerobic digestion), enabling the shift from recovery to recycling (a treatment option which ranks higher on the European waste hierarchy). This way, biowaste is diverted from other recycling streams or from landfill and facilitating separate collection – resulting in the creation of more valuable compost.

What are the required circumstances for a compostable product to compost?2018-09-04T13:34:16+01:00

Industrial composting is an established process with commonly agreed requirements concerning temperature and timeframe for biodegradable waste to metabolise to stable, sanitised products (biomass) to be used in agriculture (humus/fertiliser). This process takes place in industrial or municipal composting plants. These plants provide controlled conditions, i.e. controlled temperatures, humidity, aeration, etc. for a quick and safe composting process.

The criteria for the industrial compostability of packaging are set out in the European standard EN 13432. EN 13432 requires the compostable plastics to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months. That means that 90 percent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. The remaining share is converted into water and biomass – i.e. valuable compost. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.

There is currently no international standard specifying the conditions for home composting of biodegradable plastics. However, there are several national standards, such as the Australian norm AS 5810 “Biodegradable plastics – biodegradable plastics suitable for home composting”. Belgian certifier TÜV Austria Belgium had developed the OK compost home certification scheme, requiring at least 90% degradation in 12 months at ambient temperature. Based on this scheme, the French standard NF T 51-800 “Plastics — Specifications for plastics suitable for home composting” was developed, specifying the very same requirements for certification.

What is the difference between ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’?2017-06-19T15:15:09+01:00

Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials are metabolised to CO2, water, and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the conditions (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, presence of microorganisms, etc.) of the specific environment (industrial composting plant, garden compost, soil, water, 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 (for packaging) or EN 14995 (for plastic materials in general). 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.

Are all bioplastic materials/products biodegradable?2018-12-17T11:08:52+01:00

No. Bioplastics are a large family of materials that can be either bio-based, biodegradable or both. The largest share (over 57 percent) of bioplastics currently on the market are bio-based, non-biodegradable (durable) materials. Biodegradability is an inherent property of certain polymers that can be preferable for specific applications (e.g. biowaste bags).

Biodegradable/compostable products should feature a clear recommendation regarding the suitable end-of-life option and correct disposal for this product. European Bioplastics recommends to acquire a certificate and according label for biodegradable plastic products meant for industrial composting according to EN 13432.

How does industrial composting (aerobic treatment) of bioplastics work?2017-06-19T15:05:28+01:00

Compostable plastics that are tested and certified according to the European standards for industrial composting EN 13432 (for packaging) or EN 14995 (for plastic materials in general) fulfil the technical criteria to be treated in industrial composting plants. These plants provide controlled conditions, i.e. controlled temperatures, humidity, aeration, etc. for a quick and safe composting process.

EN 13432 requires for the compostable plastics to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months. That means that 90 percent or more of the plastic material will have been converted to CO2. The remaining share is converted into water and biomass – i.e. valuable compost.

Compost is used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilisers.

What is meant by ‘organic recycling’?2017-06-19T14:53:28+01:00

Organic recycling is defined by the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (amended in 2005/20/EC) as the aerobic treatment (industrial composting) or anaerobic treatment (biogasification) of packaging waste.

The EU Directive refers to the harmonised European standard 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.

In order to make organic recycling of biodegradable packaging more effective, a mandatory separate collection of biodegradable waste and legal access for certified compostable products to enter the respective recycling systems would be needed.

Do bioplastics ‘contaminate’ mechanical recycling waste streams?2017-06-19T14:24:13+01:00

As with conventional plastics, bioplastics need to be recycled separately (by stream type). Available sorting technologies such as NIR (near infrared) help to reduce contamination.

Bioplastic materials for which a recycling stream already exists (e.g. bio-based PE and bio-based PET) can easily be recycled together with their conventional counterparts. 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). Innovative materials such as PLA can technically easily be sorted and mechanically recycled. Once sufficiently large volumes are sold on the market, the implementation of separate recycling streams for PLA will become economically viable for recyclers.

Related links:

Waste management

Can bioplastics be mechanically recycled?2017-06-19T14:22:51+01:00

If a separate recycling stream for a certain plastic type exists, the bioplastic material can simply be recycled together with their conventional counterpart – e.g. bio-based PE in the PE-stream or bio-based PET in the PET stream – as they are chemically and physically identical in their properties.

The post consumer recycling of bioplastics materials 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 to install separate recycling streams. It is expected, that new separate recycling streams for PLA for example will be feasible and introduced in the short to medium term.

Related links:

Waste management

Can bioplastics be integrated into established recycling and recovery schemes?2017-06-19T14:21:50+01:00

Bioplastics are a diverse family of materials. Depending on the material and the application, recycling in existing waste streams is certainly an option. Drop-in solutions such as bio-based PE or bio-based PET can easily be recycled in existing recycling streams together with their conventional counterparts. Innovative materials such as PLA can also be mechanically recycled. Once sufficient volumes are on the market, the establishment of a separate recycling stream will become feasible. 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.

Related links:

Waste management

Is Bisphenol A used in bioplastics?2017-06-19T14:17:10+01:00

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 but 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.

Does the use of GMO feedstock for the production of bioplastics, e.g. for packaging applications, have an impact on human health?2017-06-19T14:16:18+01:00

If GM crops are used for the production of bio-based plastics, 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 as it contains no genetically modified material and cannot interact with the contents. However, most bioplastics in the market are made from GMO-free feedstock.

How can the industry support the supply of sustainable feedstock?2017-06-19T14:00:33+01:00

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.

Sustainable sourcing of the renewable feedstock and good agricultural practices and technologies are continuously enhanced and ensured through the emergence of reliable and independent sustainability certification schemes such as ISCC Plus, RSB, or REDcert.

Related links:

Renewable feedstock

Are GMO crops used for bioplastics?2017-06-19T13:57:05+01:00

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops is not a technical requirement for the production of any bioplastic materials that are commercially available today. If GM crops are used, the reasons usually lie in the regional feedstock supply situation or are based on economic decisions.

Most bioplastics producers do not use GMO feedstock for the production of their bio-based plastic materials or offer GMO-free options. Yet, even if GM crops are used for the production of bioplastics, 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 product is therefore well suited to use in food packaging as it contains no genetically modified material and cannot interact with the contents.

Related links:

Renewable feedstock

Is the use of non-food feedstock feasible?2018-12-07T13:34:20+01:00

Yes, to some extend. Today, bioplastics are predominantly produced from agro-based feedstock (i.e. plants that are rich in carbohydrates). At the same time, the bioplastics industry is investing in the research and development to diversify the availability of biogenic feedstock for the production of bio-based plastics. The industry particularly aims to further develop fermentation technologies that enable the utilisation of ligno-cellulosic feedstock sources, such as non-food crops or waste from food crops, in the medium and long term. The production of ligno-cellulosic sugars and ethanol in particular are regarded as a promising technological approach.

Will there be sufficient agricultural area in the world to sustain production of food, feed, fuel and bioplastics?2017-06-19T13:45:05+01:00

There are various ways to ensure a sufficient supply of biomass for the production for food, feed, and industrial/material uses (including bioplastics) now and in future. These include:

  1. Broadening the base of feedstock: The bioplastics industry is currently working mostly with agro-based feedstock (i.e. plants that are rich in carbohydrate, such as corn or sugar cane). Several projects, however, are already looking into using plant residues or other lingo-cellulosic feedstock.
  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.*

* 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.

Is the current use of food crops for the production of bioplastics ethically justifiable?2018-12-07T12:23:47+01:00

According to the FAO, about one third of the global food production is either wasted or lost every year. European Bioplastics acknowledges that this is a serious problem and strongly supports efforts to reduce food waste.

Other 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 or feed and bioplastics. The land currently needed to grow the feedstock for the production of bioplastics amounts to only about 0.02 percent of the global agricultural area – compared to 97 percent of the area that is used for the production of food and feed.

Agro-based feedstock – plants that are rich in carbohydrates, such as corn or sugar cane, is currently the most efficient and resilient feedstock available for the production of bioplastics. Other solutions, such as non-food crops or waste from food crops that are providing ligno-cellulosic feedstock, will be available in the medium and long term.

There is no well-founded argument against a responsible and monitored (i.e. sustainable) use of food crops for bioplastics. There is even evidence that the industrial and material use of biomass may in fact serve as a stabilizer for food prices, providing farmers with more secure markets and thereby leading to more sustainable production. 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.