A plastics strategy for a circular economy

EUBP: “Consider recycling as both mechanical and organic recycling”

Bio-based ‘I’mGreen’ Lidl shopping bag made from sugarcane. Photo Braskem

On 27 January 2017 in Berlin, European Bioplastics (EUBP), the association representing the bioplastics industry along the entire value chain in Europe, welcomed the ‘EU Roadmap for a Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy’ published by the European Commission. “An EU Plastics Strategy is needed to drive continued change in the plastics industry towards an innovative, sustainable and resource-efficient economy,” says François de Bie, chairman of European Bioplastics.

“The European Commission’s ambitious circular economy approach becomes apparent in the roadmap. Alternatives to fossil feedstock such as biomass or CO2 will be taken into account for the manufacture of plastics. Furthermore, diverse end-of-life options will be assessed. Making use of bio-degradation properties of bio-plastics will help to divert organic waste from landfill and will help reduce plastic leakage into the environment,” acknowledges de Bie.

The Commission has given priority to assess how to decarbonize the plastic industry. Replacing a significant proportion of the conventional fossil feedstock by plant-based or waste-based alternatives would reduce GHG emissions. Both market push and pull measures could drive this transition, as would a level-playing-field regarding access to bi based feedstock in the EU. This approach needs to be underpinned by smart sustainability criteria in order to ensure responsible sourcing and food security.

Bioplastic food packaging
Bioplastic food packaging. Photo NZZ

Bio-degradable plastics generate a lot of interest and diverse expectations. As the plastics strategy will follow circular thinking as its guiding principle, it is important to also look at these materials from a circular vantage point. Currently, bio-degradable products are designed and intended for organic recycling in industrial composting facilities, where bio degradation creates secondary products such as organic fertilizers, thus merging efficient resource use, value creation and economic growth. Organic recycling is putting bio-degradability to circular use. Research on bio-degradation in alternative environments and evaluating the resulting potential benefits is another path that should be continuously pursued. Unfortunately, the roadmap refers to bio-degradable plastics only under the aspect of ‘plastic leakage into the environment.’ This falls short of accounting for the full circular potential these materials offer. European Bioplastics therefore urges the European Commission and all the stakeholders participating in future discussions to consider recycling as both mechanical and organic recycling and to contemplate the corresponding plastic materials in this context.

European Bioplastics looks forward to sharing further information on standards, certifications and labels available for its industry’s products and the benefits they offer in a circular economy.

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