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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1106

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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1106

Opinion The Future of

Opinion The Future of the Shopping Bag in Italy Are newly developed, biodegradable and compostable polymers the ideal solution? By Stefano Facco New Business Development Director Novamont SpA Novara, Italy Currently we are facing a quite chaotic debate about the ideal solution for the incredible amount of disposable shopping bags used by consumers today. Recycling, environmental impact, re-use, littering and especially marine litter are some of the main keywords arising when this important topic is discussed. Some facts related to the use of such bags are quite impressive. In Italy, some 300 bags per year per capita are used, which corresponds roughly to 25% of the total European consumption, and corresponding to 100 billion units. About 2/3 of these products are imported from countries such as China, Indonesia or Thailand, where many of them are being produced under conditions which are not allowed in Europe. This creates an unfair competitive advantage. The recycling quota of post-consumer shopping bags is below 1% on a world-wide level, albeit in some countries the collection rate is much higher, but not all collected bags end up in recycling. At this point, I feel that beside the environmental discussion about raw materials and products, we should strongly bear in mind the fact that right now the plastic converting industry, especially the European companies producing bags and sacks, are not facing easy times. The competing converters, mainly located in the Asia/Pacific area, quite often accept commercial conditions which may be described as dumping conditions (on an EU level, only a few years ago, some anti-dumping measures were taken). Especially in the southern European region, where most of the European production was located, more and more medium and small size companies are struggling to survive. Taking these aspects into account, it really may be considered a natural reaction to somehow strengthen again our European industry by converting new families of polymers (also produced in the EU) locally. A fair competition would arise again, and the basis for a healthy economic growth. Furthermore, the use of renewable resources combined with the property of being B&C (biodegradable and compostable) would, in addition to the aspects related to the growth of local companies, help us to better deal with the scarcity of fossil raw materials and to add new end-of-life options such as the organic recycling of polymers. 22 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6

Films|Flexibles|Bags The new Italian decree, which came in force on January 1 st , 2011, imposing the use of B&C shopping bags, somehow perfectly supported the three major aspects I have described above: the strengthening of local or European enterprises, the use of renewable resources (as most of the polymers available on the market do contain a significant amount of renewable raw materials (RRMs)) and their compostability, which finally offers an end-of-life option which may help the Italian composting industry to get rid of some of the 100,000 tonnes of plastic film pollutants sieved out during the composting process itself. The incredible speed with which major Italian B&C polymer producers (such as Novamont) and other European groups (such as BASF) were able to increase production capacity has enabled most of the traditional shopping bag converters to switch to these new materials in order to satisfy the growing market request. Due to the high technological level of these materials, the production switch was immediately carried out without loss of time and without additional investment. Major groups such as Matrica (ENI/Novamont JV), Roquette, Cereplast and other companies started, or have announced, huge investments in the production of monomers, intermediates and polymers based on RRMs or in compounding facilities. Therefore, the coming into force of this new decree not only boosted once more the optimism of local converters, but it also helped to attract huge investments in future-oriented technologies such as fully integrated biorefineries. Briefly summarizing the positive outcome of the new situation that we are experiencing in Italy, we may affirm that the composting industry is easily able to handle the increase and treatment of the new compostable shopping bags. Retailers have reduced consumption of shopping bags in general by 30% to 50%, which may be considered environmentally beneficial, converters are again increasing their production and replacing partially imported products, and new industrial investments have proven that investors believe firmly in the future of these new technologies. www.novamont.com bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6 23

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