BIOPLASTICS
Are single-use biopolymers a sham? – position paper by Germany's BUND / Criticism by producer‘s group Plastics Europe
The “bioplastics” tag misleads consumers, because it has no added ecological value and, especially in the packaging segment, should be avoided – that is the conclusion reached by the waste and raw materials working group of the German environmental association BUND (Berlin; www.bund.net) in its recently published position paper on bioplastics.

“Bio” means that these packs are produced from renewable raw materials such as maize or sugarcane, or that they are theoretically compostable. However, say the authors of the paper, the industry conceals the fact that “bioplastics” decompose very slowly, that most are not recycled but incinerated, and that the raw materials are cultivated in monocultures. “The ‘bio’ label is thus misleading,” said Janine Korduan, the BUND expert for circular economy. Many “bioplastics” products additionally contain pollutants and are, from a toxicological point of view, no better than conventional plastics.

“For the environment, ‘bioplastics’ do nothing. Its production consumes many resources, and no plant nutrients are created during their decomposition. That is not recycling but a waste of resources,” said Korduan. In the opinion of the BUND, it would make more ecological sense to produce fewer single-use packs and to opt consistently for multi-use in all sectors: beverages, foodstuffs, online trade, and business-to-business.

Related: Swedish scientists make renewable transparent wood with citrus-based biopolymer

The requirement – which is due to be introduced in January 2023 – to offer multi-use solutions will not be enough. For this reason, the BUND wants an additional Germany-wide single-use levy of at least 50 cents per pack and 20 cents for disposable cutlery.

Related: German environmental aid organisation calls for one-way levy on to-go packaging
“Biopolymers essential to reduce dependence on fossils”
German plastics producers association Plastics Europe Deutschland (Frankfurt; www.plasticseurope.org), however, has criticised BUND’s paper by saying that first and foremost, bioplastics are an essential part of the industry if we are to do away with our dependence on fossils: “Bio-based materials are important for another reason: they are made from renewable raw materials. Together with circular and CO2-based plastics, they are thus one of three pillars to end the fossil age. This is important for successful climate and environmental protection. And it is also important for our raw material security in geopolitically uncertain times. The following applies: for each purpose, the most economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable raw material source must be chosen.”

The association also argues that its member companies see particularly great potential in biopolymers because the raw materials for them can also come from waste and residual materials.
Processing of unused residues
The Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB) at the University of Hanover (Hanover, Germany; www.ifbb-hannover.de) also advocates the expansion of multi-use solutions. The institute points out in a statement that more and more residual materials that otherwise remain unused are now being used as a basis for bioplastics, such as straw, wood residues, hemp or flax flour, harvest residues, fruit stones, vegetable peels, nutshells, and coffee grounds. When obtaining raw materials for bioplastics, it is also important to get away from raw materials produced overseas and to develop a national or regional circular economy.

Related: Development of degradable bioplastic film with tapioca starch

Degradable bioplastics are also only worthwhile where the degradability brings an actual additional benefit, for example as mulch film in agriculture or as medical suture material. Otherwise, long-lasting (bio)plastics should be preferred, as they could be recycled and used several times.

Generally speaking, according to the IfBB, greater attention should be paid to ensuring maximum recyclability in the production and design of a plastic pack: “Fewer multilayers, more individual materials and only as much material as necessary. That applies both to bioplastics and to oil-based plastics.”
16.06.2022 Plasteurope.com [250472-0]
Published on 16.06.2022

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