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Events Will bioplastics

Events Will bioplastics benefit from Olympic boost? By Matthew Aylott Science Writer for the NNFCC Heslington, York, UK Dr John Williams, Head of Materials at bioeconomy consultants NNFCC and adviser to the London Organising Committee to the Olympic Games (LOCOG) discusses the role of sustainable packaging at the Games and asks: “Where do we go from here?” LOCOG wanted to devise a system for packaging that would help the organisers reduce waste to zero. If successful it would be the very first time an Olympic Games would deliver zero waste. This was no small task considering more than 3,300 tonnes of food and food related packaging waste would be created during the games. Tackling this problem would require an entirely new approach to packaging and waste management. NNFCC along with members of the Renewable Packaging Group and the wider waste and packaging industries worked with LOCOG to find a solution that was both economically viable and would help the organisers meet their ambitious environmental targets. Following these discussions LOCOG decided to use recyclable packaging and where that wasn’t possible they would use EN 13432 certified compostable packaging. This would allow the majority of food packaging waste to be recycled or turned into compost. New approach to packaging Making the vision a reality would be a challenge but if successful would have a huge impact on the future of packaging at events. In February this year London Bio Packaging was appointed as non-sponsor food packaging suppliers to the London 2012 Olympic Games. The company develops finished products that provide recyclable or compostable alternatives to less sustainable packaging materials. Compostable packaging was used because it helps to tackle one of the most challenging problems facing event organisers; how do you cut waste from difficult to recycle packaging streams like materials which become contaminated with food? This was particularly problematic for the Olympics, with an estimated 40% of waste generated during the Games coming from food or contaminated packaging. Compostable packaging offers a natural solution to this problem as it can be mixed with organic waste and the two can be composted together. 12 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/12] Vol. 7

Events Many of the compostable materials used at the Olympics – such as cutlery and cups – were manufactured by Italian bioplastics specialists Novamont. Their Managing Director Catia Bastioli said: “We need to take stock and show greater awareness regarding the issue of the ‘end-of-life’ of so many everyday products and, therefore, the waste we produce and dispose of.” “We believe that bioplastics have a part to play in providing the solution to some aspects of this matter, thanks to the fact they can be sent for composting together with organic waste”, she added. Novamont’s Mater-Bi ® bioplastic is partly made from renewable raw materials and is versatile enough to produce a range of different materials – making it ideal for the Olympics. This also lead to Olympic commercial partner McDonald’s appointing Novamont to make their cutlery, straws, cups, lids and containers. “Many McDonald’s items were already compliant with the EN13432 compostability standards but did not have the certification. We obtained this by working alongside our suppliers for almost two years, with considerable investment in research and development,” explained McDonald’s environment consultant Helen McFarlane. But making the materials recyclable or compostable is only half the challenge, making sure it finds its way to the right destination is just as important. Disposal Organisers strategically positioned nearly 4,000 recycling, composting and residual waste bins in the busiest areas of footfall across all the Olympic venues. There were green bins for recyclable packaging, orange bins for compostables and smaller black bins for any residual waste – which would be used to generate energy rather than being landfilled. All packaging materials were clearly labelled according to their composition to help visitors identify which bin they should be placed in and, while there was some evidence to suggest this wasn’t strictly adhered to, waste had generally ended up in the correct bin. Paper was separated and recycled locally, while PET plastic was recycled by Coca Cola at its new £15 million Continuum Recycling plant in Lincolnshire, UK. Coca Cola aim to convert all PET disposed of in the Olympic Park into new bottles within six weeks. Waste management company Countrystyle handled the compostable packaging, alongside venue food waste, at its in-vessel composting facility in Kent, UK. To ensure that the packaging would break down, samples were sent to the facility prior to the Games and successfully put through the composting process. The time this process takes varies according to the material in question. According to Novamont Mater-Bi cutlery typically disintegrates within three months and biodegrades within six, whereas film can take as little as two to three weeks to break down. Legacy The innovative use of compostable materials, such as bioplastics, at the Olympics has demonstrated proof of concept for their use at large scale events but the key will now be to maintain the momentum and build on the success of the Games, while recognising where things can be improved for future events. NNFCC are now working with other organisations like the Government’s Waste & Resource Action Programme and the Renewable Energy Association’s Organics Recycling Group to share experiences from London 2012 and develop guidelines which can be applied to other events in the future. This will help event organisers reduce waste and meet their environmental targets, like those recommended in the UK Government’s new hospitality and food services industry voluntary agreement. The agreement sets two targets by 2015: to reduce food and packaging waste by 5% and to recycle, compost or convert into energy via anaerobic digestion at least 70% of the remaining waste. Should this model be taken up more widely it would be a major boost to the bioplastics industry. bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/12] Vol. 7 13

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