EU Commission: Policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics

EU Commission: Policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics

The EU Commission wanted to clarify the issue of bio-plastics and biodegradable plastics with the document “COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS. EU policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics” published on 30 November 2022.

First of all, it provides clarification on the meaning and differences between ‘biobased plastics’, ‘biodegradable plastics’ and ‘compostable plastics’.
The term “biobased” associated with plastics indicates the content of the raw materials used in their production. While conventional plastics are made from fossil resources (oil and natural gas), bio-based plastics are made from biomass. The biomass that is used today comes mainly from plants grown specifically to replace fossil resources, such as sugar cane, cereal crops, oil crops or non-food sources such as wood. Other sources are organic waste and by-products, such as used cooking oil, bagasse and tall oil.
Biodegradable plastics are those materials, which under certain conditions, are designed to decompose at the end of their life, through the conversion of all their organic constituents (polymers and organic additives) mainly into carbon dioxide and water, new microbial biomass, mineral salts and, in the absence of oxygen, methane.
Compostable plastics represent a subset of biodegradable plastics designed to biodegrade under controlled conditions through industrial composting in special composting or anaerobic digestion plants.

The document specifies that the use of bio-based raw materials will only result in real environmental benefits if they go beyond reducing the use of fossil resources. As the EU’s circular economy agenda responds to this objective by prioritising the reduction of consumption of short-lived products and waste, increasing plastic recycling targets and using materials with recycled content to make new products.
In line with circular economy principles, producers of biobased plastics should prioritise the use of organic waste and by-products, thus minimising the use of primary biomass and avoiding significant environmental impacts.

The Circular Economy Action Plan highlights the need for policy direction on the use of biodegradable or compostable plastics, based on an assessment of applications where such use can be beneficial to the environment, identifying the need to limit the use of biodegradable plastics in the open environment only to specific applications for which reduction, re-use or recycling is not feasible.

Furthermore, it emerges that the use of plastics that biodegrade in the open environment must be limited to materials for which full biodegradability has been proven to be below a specific, evidence-based timeframe to avoid environmental damage.
Since biodegradable plastics are mainly used in relatively short-lived applications such as food and beverage packaging, the resources used to produce these products are quickly lost.
Replacing conventional plastics with biodegradable plastics risks slowing down the development of circular economy solutions based on waste reduction and reuse. It also risks discouraging plastic recycling projects to keep materials in the loop as long as possible, as well as the use of more sustainable alternatives that do not contain plastic.

Source and image: matrec