EUBP concerned on biobased/biodegrable plastics report from US

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The European Bioplastics (EUBP) in its response to the report ‘Packaging plastic in the circular economy’ recently published by the European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC), says the statements on biobased and biodegradable plastics by EASAC lead “to some very questionable recommendations to EU institutions and citizens”.

The report doubts that biobased plastics are better for the environment, although it has been proven by third party researchers and many peer reviewed Life Cycle Assessments that bioplastics made from sustainably grown biomass carry multiple environmental benefits over their fossil counterparts.

“The European Green Deal itself underlines that fossil subsidies are to be challenged and alternative resources shall be considered. In the material sector there is a need to change to low emissions and renewable, bio-based carbon materials. Bio-based plastics respond to this need and are already available in the market,” states François de Bie, Chairman of EUBP.

Raising mainly emotional and not science-based arguments, the report is also critical about biodegradable plastics. It’s posting the idea that biodegradability and durability are properties that cannot coexist, making biodegradable plastic an ‘elusive’ target. This claim is disavowed by many products that are present on the market today. The report also questions how ‘soon’ and ‘well’ biodegradable plastics degrade.

“This does not reflect the reality, especially in the case of some applications which can potentially end up in the organic waste, as a recent independent study by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) clearly showed. The tested EN13432 certified degradable and compostable plastic products, such as organic waste collection bags, plant pots, tea bags or coffee capsules, broke down in a full-scale industrial organic waste treatment facility within a maximum of 22 days,” de Bie commented on the EASAC study.

Packaging that is prone to be highly contaminated with food waste will not be mechanically recycled. Instead, in most cases, it will be incinerated, or even worse, landfilled. “Compostable plastics, eg. compostable shopping bags which can be reused to collect organic waste, help divert organic waste from landfills and thus increase the amount of extra organic waste collected. Biodegradable and compostable plastics play an important role in a circular economy by closing the organic cycle.”

Besides the WUR study, the not-for-profit organisation WRAP, which leads the UK Plastics Pact, recently also suggested key applications and opportunities for compostable plastic packaging. These include food caddy liners and other bags as well as fruit and vegetable stickers, tea bags, coffee pods and ready meal trays for ‘closed loop’ situations, e.g. festivals.

The study also refers to possible confusion of consumers caused by the term ‘biodegradable’. “To the best of our knowledge, none of the expressed criticism that biodegradability will increase litter is backed up with any actual evidence. The much cited UNEP report is such a case in point,” de Bie criticised. Thus, it seems to EUBP that any attempt to solve the gigantic environmental problems caused by fossil-based plastics is hastily dismissed by EASAC.

EUBP says EASAC seems to ignore 20 years of research, market applications and recycling practices of these materials, always developed in compliance with the current EU legal provisions.


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