In December 2015, the European Commission published the Circular Economy Proposal, which is an important step towards closing the carbon loop in Europe and making sure resources are not wasted but re-enter the economy by design or intention.
Bioplastics play a key role in the transition to a circular economy by replacing fossil with renewable resources and increasing resource efficiency and by increasing recycling targets and waste management efficiency. The greater part of bio-based plastics can easily be recycled in existing recycling streams, and compostable plastics help increase separate collection of organic waste and divert biowaste from landfill and other waste streams.
The Communication ‘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 includes a set of measures, including a EU Strategy for Plastics and a report on oxo-plastics.
EU Strategy for Plastics
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.
Revised EU waste legislation
The revision of the EU waste package was another key element of the Circular Economy Action Plan. The revised EU waste legislation, including a revision of the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive was adopted and entered into force in the first half of 2018.
The revised Waste Framework Directive allows biodegradable and compostable packaging to be collected together with the bio-waste and recycled in industrial composting and anaerobic digestion, which has already successfully been implemented in several Member States. By 2023, separate collection of bio-waste is set to be mandatory throughout Europe. Biodegradable plastics verifiably help to collect more bio-waste and ultimately contribute to reaching the new recycling targets.
The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive acknowledges bio-based and recycled materials are equally viable solutions to make packaging more sustainable. While Member States are encouraged to promote the use of bio-based recyclable packaging and bio-based compostable packaging, the Directive still lacks concrete legislative measures stimulating their use and improving market conditions for such products.