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06 | 2010

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Opinion The End-of-Life

Opinion The End-of-Life Article contributed by: Gaëlle Janssens Environmental Affairs Manager PRO EUROPE Brussels, Belgium Attilio Caligiani Consultant Weber Shandwick Brussels Belgium www.pro-e.org About Bioplastics PRO EUROPE (Packaging Recovery Organization Europe), the umbrella organisation for the packaging and packaging waste recovery schemes which mainly use the ‘Green Dot’ trademark, is convinced that waste and resource management is at the forefront of a new economy. This economy is being called upon to answer increasingly wide-spread environmental issues, notably those driven by mainstream concerns over climate change, and the financial crisis. A few years ago the general opinion about biopackaging would have meant speaking in terms of biodegradable packaging. Nowadays the evolution of packaging sees a more focused view on the renewability of resource rather than just on biodegradability. So composting of biopackaging is far from being the only possibility for end-of-life. Many different ends-of-life exist for biopackaging. The choice of a particular option depends on the collection and treatment infrastructure available. Just because many biopackagings are compostable, it does not mean that composting is the best option from an environmental, logistic or economic perspective. Based on environmental study, it is the opinion of PRO EUROPE that bioplastic recovery is better than composting. End of Life of Bioplastics Depending on the country, if the bioplastic products comply with the sorting instructions, bioplastics are selectively collected according to type (for example plastic bottles). The possible end-of-life options are recycling, incineration, composting or landfill. Recycling is possible with traditional polymers made from renewable resources (i.e. bio PET, bio PE etc.). For other innovative polymers the prerequisites are adapted sorting equipment, good quantities of high quality homogeneous material, an existing and sustainable recycling infrastructure, and enduser outlets. It should be mentioned that blended materials cannot be optically sorted and some polymers might bring a risk of contamination of recycling processes (e.g. if PLA enters the process of recycling PET. Both materials have a similar appearance, and automatic sorting as used to sort PP or PVC from a PET recycling stream, is not currently installed at all recycling facilities). Another possible end-of-life option is gasification or incineration with energy recovery - for the environment, a better solution than composting. Note that incineration with energy recovery is already used in some countries as a way of treating residuals after sorting. The third end-of-life option in this scenario is organic recycling or composting, a possible solution whenever the packaging is mixed with organic waste (e.g. food waste, kitchen waste, yard waste etc.) in proper recovery infrastructure. The last end-of-life solution is landfill - which is the least preferable option. If bioplastics are thrown in the residual waste bin, they will end their life in landfill (worst option) or be incinerated to provide energy recovery. From the authors’ point of view incineration is a better environmental option than industrial composting. It is already used in some countries to treat the residual waste. 54 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/10] Vol. 5

of Bioplastics Only a small minority of citizens have access to organic waste collection. For this scenario the authors think that composting is not as good for the environment as energy recovery (gasification or incineration). Moreover, new collection and treatment infrastructures are needed to handle organic packaging. A test shows that the quality of the compost (and its end value to the market) would go down because of sorting mistakes made by consumers. There are also implied additional costs in adapting existing infrastructures and to manage residual waste. Conclusion Regarding the Sustainability of Bioplastics As previously mentioned and based on environmental study, the authors think that bioplastic recovery is better than composting. But even if bioplastics are frequently described as being environmentally superior to traditional plastics, the authors do not agree that this is always the case. As said before, being biodegradable or biomass based doesn’t automatically mean being ecologically friendly or sustainable. This must be verified on a case by case approach. When considering the problem of litter, we can say that biodegradability does not necessarily resolve this issue. Litter must be dealt with at source; it is a social problem. Biological degradation can mitigate the problem, but without specific and necessary conditions (microorganisms, temperature and humidity) it can be very slow. Furthermore, bioplastics could theoretically add to the problem of litter if supported by a belief that they all just ‘break down and disappear’ after disposal. For this reason, C we must take care to educate consumers properly. It often happens that consumers are confused by all Y the different labels printed on bags, boxes and bottles describing packaging as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘home compostable’ or even ‘biopackaging’. Even if consumers react very favourably to these ideas, most do not associate them with the required actions. There is a need to regulate and provide clear communication on both labels and in K the instructions for sorting plastics. Other important factors are education and instruction. Material producers, converters and retailers that use these new materials have a responsibility and a duty to introduce them in a conscientious and regulated manner, so that previous education programmes aimed at promoting recycling and the prevention of waste are not diminished. M CM MY CY CMY magnetic_148,5x105.ai 175.00 lpi 15.00° 75.00° 0.00° 45.00° 14.03.2009 10:13:31 Prozess CyanProzess MagentaProzess GelbProzess Schwarz Magnetic www.plasticker.com for Plastics • International Trade in Raw Materials, Machinery & Products Free of Charge • Daily News from the Industrial Sector and the Plastics Markets • Current Market Prices for Plastics. • Buyer’s Guide for Plastics & Additives, Machinery & Equipment, Subcontractors and Services. • Job Market for Specialists and Executive Staff in the Plastics Industry Up-to-date • Fast • Professional bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/10] Vol. 5 55

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