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02 | 2010

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Basics by Michael

Basics by Michael Thielen Basics of Certification Ever since the introduction of ‘biodegradable plastics’ in the late 1980s, verification of the claims ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’ has been a key question. Although touted as ‘environmentally friendly’, several socalled biodegradable plastic products did not biodegrade as expected. And yet manufacturers of these products were able to make unverified claims of biodegradability because scientifically based test methods and standards were only beginning to be introduced [1]. Before this, manufacturers used whatever test method they felt most appropriate. Without clear standards or definitions, critics and consumers were skeptical of any product making a claim of biodegradability or compostability. The market for biodegradable/compostable products languished, as did rates of municipal composting, as composters banned any materials that could potentially contaminate their composting operations. However, for more than 10 years now companies and consumers have been able to look out for ‘certified’ products. Also beginning in the late 1980s, specifications and tests were created that scientifically prove whether a material will biodegrade and compost within a certain time and will not leave persistent synthetic residues. These standards are for example EN 13432, EN 14855, ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868. Conformity to such standards is easily detectable by so called logos, certification marks (in case of certification bodies) that are awarded by independent (third-party) certification bodies indicating that the products are tested and ‘certified’ biodegradable and - depending on the standard - compostable. This article will try to shed light on the basics of the certification procedures and on the granting and use of such labels / logos / certification marks. In addition to the biodegradability of certain bioplastics, the origin of certain bioplastics from renewable sources is gaining increasing attention. Thus the certification and labelling of ‘biobased’ materials is the subject of the most recent developments … Benefits of Certification Based on adequate technical tests and assessment by an independent certification body the certification mark shows the conformity of a product with international standards and therefore the difference in quality between certified and noncertified products. Basically, the benefits of a certification scheme can be seen from different points of view [3]: For the manufacturer of a product, a certification is a convenient and independent way to demonstrate the compliance of a product with a certain standard. Manufacturers usually hesitate to make evidence, technical data, patented data etc accessible to everybody (including their competition). Instead, a certification body is committed to confidentiality but can evaluate a product if provided with suitable evidence, and issue a certificate if - and only if - the product meets the requirements of the standard. Thus a certificate gives the innovators the possibility to demonstrate the compliance of their products with existing standards while keeping the know-how confidential. In addition the certification mark can be seen as a quality mark to set certified products apart from competing, noncertified, products and to provide proof of consistently high quality, as the certification bodies have installed annual verification processes [2] or market monitoring procedures, picking products from the market at random for verification [3]. For the end-user or consumer of a product a certificate or a conformity mark is considered as an easy-to-understand medium translating a complex technical matter. Thus a logo can serve as guidance for the decision-making process of retailers and consumers. The conformity logos build credibility and recognition for products that meet the ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868 and/or EN 13432 standards so that consumers, composters, regulators and others can be assured that the product will biodegrade and compost as expected [1]. The Iceberg Analogy “When I have to explain the difference between logo, certificate, reports, etc I usually use the analogy of the iceberg”, says Philippe Dewolfs, Head of the Product Certification Department at Vinçotte. “When you see an iceberg, you only see a small part of it. It is the same for the certification: when you see a logo or a certificate, you only see a small part of the assessment process. The deeper you go, the more complex and detailed is the (technical) information and the knowledge required to understand it,” he explains. 42 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/10] Vol. 5

Basics The Tools Technical Content Easy to Understand Mark - Logo (B2C) - Certificate (B2B) Assessement report Test report A Conformity mark translates complex technical matters into an easy-tounderstand message (source: Vinçotte) Logos - Labels - Marks and Certification Bodies As there are a number of different logo’s existing in different parts of the world (see bM issues 01/06, 02/06, 01/07, 02/07, 03/07, 04/07) we would like to mention only three by way of example in this article. The Seedling Logo is internationally protected and owned by European Bioplastics and is granted by DIN CERTCO (Germany) for Europe and by the Australasian Bioplastics Association (ABA) for Australia. Cooperating partners of DIN CERTCO are e.g. the Association for Organics Recycling in the UK or COBRO in Poland. The OK Compost Logo by Vinçotte (Belgium) is available in different versions reflecting the disposal environment. OK Compost HOME for example certifies that a complete composting according to the given standards will happen even at ambient temperatures in a home compost pile. Other versions are OK compost (the industrial or commercial composting version, EN 13432) and OK biodegradable SOIL and WATER. In North America the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and the U.S. Composting Council (USCC) joined forces to create a symbol to identify compostable plastic products. This symbol, the Compostable Label, is recognized by major composting programs from San Francisco, California to Prince Edward Island, Canada. Like the other symbols, logos or marks mentioned above, it is designed as an easy reference for manufacturers, consumers, legislators and composters to check if products are safe for composting. The ‘Seedling’ (DIN CERTCO / ABA / European Bioplastics) ‘OK compost’ (Vinçotte) The Certification Procedure The procedure to apply for certification, the documents to be checked, and the grant and use of the logo or mark is basically similar for all systems. It is also possible that existing test reports and documents concerning the biodegradability and compostability of a product might be accepted by different certification bodies. There are for instance memoranda of understanding between DIN CERTCO The ‘Compostable Logo’ (BPI, USCC) bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/10] Vol. 5 43

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