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Opinion Fig. 4: Bags for

Opinion Fig. 4: Bags for fruits and vegetable are not included in bagislation. It is the perfect bio-waste bag (Photo: Kaeb) Both laws breach the principles of the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and the EU trading and competition rules. However between 2005 and 2011 the public perception of bags has changed. Over the last two years television programmes, news and articles, and even movies, criticised overconsumption and its contribution to littering. Therefore, the EC did not directly react with a rejection of the Italian ban but with a public consultation. By August 15,000 answers had arrived to questions that covered “the need for reduction, possible measures such as levies and bans, the need for differentiation between biodegradable and nonbiodegradable bags, EN 13432 standard and labelling issues“ and more. DG Environment Commissioner Potocnik, who is currently responsible, is running an impact assessment on possible measures. As he made clear in his 2011 statements, the EC very likely will develop harmonised Europe-wide measures to reduce carrier bags and their environmental impact. The first reaction of the EU plastics industry to the Italian ban was, like the French case, heavy lobbying against a severe market distortion. But as the EC signalled “we will regulate bags“ the strategy changed and was turned into a self-regulation approach. In October 2011 European plastics industry organisations presented to the EU Commission an alternative to regulatory measures on plastic carrier bags. The draft proposal involves the whole value chain and has the objective of working towards more sustainable use of the plastic carrier bag in Europe by promoting reusable bags, avoiding bags being given for free and the use of more renewable and recycled materials in the production of new plastic carrier bags. While self-regulation is being discussed in the value chain Spain has come up with legislation similar to Italy. In a staged approach all single-use bags will be banned from 2018 onwards unless they are biodegradable and compostable according to EN 13432. The importance of waste management and recycling The very solid and valid argument for compostable shopping bags is that they will help to collect more bio-waste, e.g. food and garden waste. Diverting such waste from landfill or other recycling schemes is a significant contribution to better waste management and more efficient recycling. The precondition is to have established organic waste collection and recycling schemes. However, in many regions, e.g. in Southern and Eastern Europe, in France or the UK this infrastructure is hardly developed. The legal promotion of biodegradable bags occurs in countries where, at least in wider regions, composting is not well established (Southern Italy, Spain). There are huge differences when regarding the situation in EU countries. The consumption pattern is differing significantly from member state to member state. This includes the type of bag, the film gauge and the number of bags used, which is widely varying. For example in central and northern Europe, e.g. Germany, Denmark or Austria, carrier bags are rarely given away for free – resulting in low numbers of consumption. What is more, the available regional waste management and recycling infrastructure is ranging from ‘almost nothing in place’ to ‘far developed for all types of waste’. For PE carrier bags - the dominant product on the market - specific sorting and recycling schemes were developed and are working well in some EU countries. Any policy against PE bags would be a policy against recycling. Rather vigorous and negative debates earlier sensibilised the European bioplastics industry to the fact that the recycling of conventional plastics is an issue: when bioplastics interfere in a negative way with this view then a confrontation with the recyclers can be expected. As recycling is a strong pillar of the European sustainability and resource efficiency policies the end-of-life attributes will play a major role in future EU bagislation. 30 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6

Films|Flexibles|Bags Fig. 5: Bio-based PE bags are well recyclable and eco-efficient – but discriminated in Italy (Photo: Zabel / European Bioplastics) Environmental performance will be scrutinized This holds also true for the environmental performance of carrier bags which is building another corner stone when evaluating the concepts and designing the ‘most wanted’ products. The available LCA results comparing different types of carrier bags concur, i.e. reusable and recyclable bags have a very good environmental profile. The less material is used for a bag of a certain load capacity, the more often it is reused and recycled, and the better will be the profile. Biobased PE bags from sugar cane perform very well according to this measure. However, as these are non-biodegradable bioplastics they suffer from the existing bag bans. Biodegradable plastics today yield rather low LCA credits from organic recycling compared to mechanical recycling. They would benefit from a calculation of the indirect (secondary) effect when diverting food waste from landfill or keeping recycling streams clean. This, however, is difficult to quantify. Many questions remain open There are many questions to be answered to find the best ‘bag solution’ serving the needs of the environment and the businesses involved. Depending on the region and purpose of application different types of bags will be favoured. Biodegradable bags are no solution to littering but are great products for organic waste recovery. Biobased PE bags perfectly fit to the established plastic recycling schemes. In all regulations the scope and the definition of the bags concerned is a huge challenge: What is single-use, what is reusable, what is a bag for life? In the Italian or Spanish legislation single-use plastic bags are not exactly defined. It is known that very thin plastic t-shirt bags are used only once before ending up as waste bags, while loop-handle or griphole bags are used several times. Is there a maximum film gauge separating single-use from reusable? Only very good and very solid arguments covering littering, waste management and proof of sustainability will allow us to justify measures that have a strong impact on the market. Bans violate EU law and are most often being regarded as a too strong in terms of market distortion - even by industry organisations like European Bioplastics. Targets for bag reduction or taxes on specific bags might be more acceptable alternatives. A voluntary branch agreement and selfregulation can be an alternative to legislation if it achieves the same results for reaching the objectives in a smarter way. Charging for bags at a reasonable price seems to be a smart and effective measure. In Europe it can be expected that the process of sorting out the options will be systematic and sound. The bioplastics industry has very good arguments to get a good share of the 750,000 tonne market for plastic carrier bags. National, sectorial or even company related interests however most likely will not be good enough to develop or defend regulations that are not in line with the principles of legislation, sustainable development or competition. NGOs and those who see their stakes at risk most likely will take care for unredeemed promises and proclaim their findings in the media. bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/11] Vol. 6 31

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