EUBP criticises FEAD position paper on biodegradable polymers / Paper highlights five key problems
Industry association European Bioplastics (EUBP, Berlin / Germany; has criticised a position paper by the European Federation for Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD, Brussels / Belgium; on biodegradable and bioplastics as “incomplete” and “misconceived”.

EUBP went on to say FEAD’s statement “exclusively focuses on mechanical recycling while at the same time refusing biodegradable plastic solutions”.

FEAD said it published its paper to provide insight into the difference between biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics, given the confusion that exists among consumers and the problems of mixing these polymers with recyclable plastics in the waste stream. The association highlighted five main problems. These are centred on standards, degradation, mixing with recyclable plastics, environmental benefits and consumers’ perception.

Biobased and biodegradable plastics do not have standards supported by sound scientific testing, FEAD asserted, adding that some biodegradable and compostable materials may also negatively affect bio-waste treatment. During recycling, and because of their different nature and properties, the presence of biodegradable and compostable plastics with recyclable plastics compromises the quality and purity of the final product, something that FEAD said has already discouraged manufacturers from using recycled content.
Assessment framework for biodegradable and compostable Plastics needed
In addition, because it is difficult to distinguish between biodegradable and compostable plastics and conventional plastics – even if households do dispose of them correctly – they are likely to be sorted out at the composting plant and sent for thermal recovery or disposal. This, FEAD said, has a negative influence on the carbon footprint and does not contribute to a circular economy. “There should be an assessment framework with clear criteria that assesses in which applications the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics is indeed beneficial to the environment,” stated FEAD, noting that in other cases, the use of these particular plastics should be avoided.

Finally, labelling a product as biodegradable can remove people’s responsibility for proper waste management. In other words, consumers might believe that littering is acceptable because the item will degrade naturally in the open environment.

Consequently, FEAD believes that promoting the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics is premature as the collection and treatment infrastructure to handle these does often not exist. Therefore, recycling of biobased plastics should be favoured over biodegradation, which it said “only provides sustainable benefits in very specific applications”.

In response to FEAD’s alleged misconceptions, EUBP said there is a regulation for biodegradable plastics, which has been revised and adopted by the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive, along with numerous other standards and test methods at European, national and even global level to explain the properties of biobased and biodegradable plastics. Additionally, doubts relating to the industrial composting ability of biodegradable plastics “lack any evidence” as compliance with European standard EN 13432 means that 90% or more of the material will convert to CO2.

EUBP added that several points of the FEAD paper focus on potential contamination of mechanical recycling streams with compostable plastics, something that EUBP said is not based on scientific evidence. A 2017 study by the University of Wageningen (Wageningen / The Netherlands; found that biodegradable plastics in mechanical recycling streams accounted for only 0.3%.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is actively working on clarifying criteria and applications for products where the use of compostable plastics represents an advantage, EUBP noted. This initiative, it said, will ultimately help stakeholders to grasp the benefits of compostable plastics in a circular economy context
27.09.2019 [243492-0]
Published on 27.09.2019

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