There is no doubt: we use too much plastic, and the plastic waste, which is littered in the environment, on land, or in the seas, has a negative impact on nature and all living beings. Therefore, the bioplastics industry not only agrees, but also actively supports the demand for a major change in our value chains from production to behaviour patterns. We have to foster the reuse of plastic products, boost waste collection, increase recyclability of products and also plan for the case in which items get littered. To achieve these changes, numerous initiatives by governments, NGOs, scientific institutions, and the industry have been implemented over the last years. The bioplastics industry very much welcomes the strengthened focus on environmental issues in our societies.
However, the measures to obtain these major changes included in all the initiatives shouldn’t be defined and promoted hastily. Unfortunately, this is what is happening in many cases. Due to the high level of pressure to come up with solutions in no time, decision makers in public and private institutions choose generalisation over differentiation. Also different levels of knowledge about the bioplastics industry and differing situations corresponding to the respective country are making informed choices difficult. As a consequence, in their concepts some stakeholder platforms that are engaged in circular economy development do not reflect the diversity of bio-based plastics. They do not explain comprehensively where the different materials of the bioplastics family fit in which are biodegradable. In order to achieve circularity, lower the climate impact of plastics and also tackle the environmental impact of erroneously littered products an inclusive approach is needed: an approach that features a sound differentiation of conventional plastics and bioplastics.
Circularity – material cycle and organic cycle – waste:
Most bio-based plastics can be recycled mechanically or (in the future) chemically. These plastics have a lower carbon footprint or are even carbon neutral. They help to close the material cycle while catering to ambitious climate goals, e.g. the EU Green Deal’s zero net emissions by 2050. Bio-based, mechanically recycled plastics such as bio-based PE, bio-based PET, bio-based PP and bio-based polyamides are a crucial step to achieve a circular economy, and boost the market for secondary raw materials. A low carbon material cycle can be created.
In addition, biodegradable plastics, which have been certified industrially compostable can be recycled organically (composted). Due to this special property, compostable plastic applications can facilitate the separate collection of organic waste. Growing volumes of organically recycled bio-waste in form of valuable, nutrient rich compost represents a treasure of secondary raw materials. It can function as organic fertiliser and help to restore the nutrient balance in soil. Battling desertification and caring for nutrient rich soil is a major contribution to climate protection efforts. The closing of the organic cycle therefore is highly relevant and needs to be considered when discussing waste management.
The industry and municipality obligation to set up working waste management systems and the consumer obligation to dispose the product in the intended facility is a prerequisite for a circular economy.
Biodegradability of plastics is often understood as a ‘magic – litter solving – solution’ which it is not. It has a high value in a circular economy via its role in facilitating composting and preventing contamination of bio-waste streams with conventional plastics. It is not an excuse to omit setting up efficient waste management and to see it as a free pass for littering.
Biodegradability in other environments than the circular composting setting is also interesting for e.g. some selected agricultural applications (such as mulch films) or applications in horticulture or aquaculture. Such uses, however, need to be carefully defined and corresponding standards should guide material choices. A standard example for biodegradable in soil mulch film is e.g. EN 17033.
European Bioplastics (EUBP) urges all organisation around the world active in driving the circular economy to have an informed perspective on bio-based mechanical recyclable plastics and the use of biodegradability. Generalisations and lack of knowledge can lead to misjudgement and missing the great potential of the range of bioplastics available for reaching circularity goals. In its role as a knowledge platform, EUBP provides a broad range of information material. Besides a very comprehensive library of documents, grafics and videos, EUBP also offers workshops and organizes discussion rounds on all topics along the value chain of bioplastics. All interested stakeholders are very much invited to approach us with any kind of topic-related request.