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Opinion Compostable

Opinion Compostable Bioplastics Packaging in Germany Some thoughts and considerations about the change in the legal framework conditions by Michael Thielen Bioplastics packaging has enjoyed a remarkable legal privilege in Germany since 2005, if certified compostable. Such packaging was exempted from the obligations defined in the German Packaging Ordinance concerning take back and recovery – resulting in a considerable waiving of the usual plastics recovery fee in the range of approx. 650,- €/t, which is to be paid for traditional plastics packaging. This legal privilege, intended by the government as a support for the early phase of market introduction, will end December 31st, 2012. From 2013 on, also bioplastics packaging needs to be licenced in one of the so-called ‘Dual Systems’ in Germany. Clearer than before, it will be steered through the yellow collection system and be sorted and recovered in the plastics waste stream. For the time being, bioplastics packaging will not be accepted in the biowaste collection for composting any more, even if certified compostable. The reason for this arrangement is, that lately the biowaste ordinance has been changed in May 2012. Reichtstag Berlin (Photo iStockphoto) While the revised Biowaste Ordinance, on the one hand, reduced necessary biobased content for bioplastics to enter the municipal biowaste collection system from 100% to ‘a mimimum threshold of 50 %’, it has, on the other hand, narrowed down the list of eligible applications to mulch film and biowaste liners (biowaste collection bags), only – by ruling out ‘packaging made from bioplastics’ explicitly from the list of allowed materials. Compostable shopping bags might be an exemption from this: although defined as a packaging under German law, it is not yet ultimatively clear if such bags also fall within this regulation. After all, one could argue that their actual deployment during their end-of-life phase can be similar to that of a dedicated biowaste collection bag – provided that the consumer is aware that compostable shopping bags can be used for biowaste collection. At first glance, this change of regulation may be perceived as a significant blow against compostable packaging and its market penetration in Germany. But before drawing conclusions from this, one should first have a look at the facts. 42 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/12] Vol. 7

Opinion from left: Biowaste bin (may be green in some areas), yellow bin for Dual Systems collection, residual waste bin, blue paper bin (in some areas) (picture fotalia) The facts are: • Compostable plastics packaging never really achieved a significant market in Germany – despite government support for nearly a decade. The exemption from the mandatory licence fee of the ‘dual systems’ in Germany had limited effect due to the very price sensitive German markets – bioplastics packaging suffered from it’s just too high prices – and in some cases also due to technical limitations. • The German composting industry always had concerns over compostable plastics, which have not been addressed actively enough by the bioplastics industry. The efforts of the bioplastics industry to convince the composters of the advantages of compostable plastics, e.g. with local demonstration projects, may have been successful in single cases, but have failed, as a whole, to convince the composting industry and their political representation so far. • Presumably, the most important reason for the lack of dynamic market development for compostable plastics is the political and public shift concerning waste issues. The push towards compostable plastics in Germany started in the 1990s, when landfills where overflowing and plastics waste was seen as a dangerous nuisance because of its durability. Today, after 20 years of legislation, Germany boasts one of the highest recycling rates for plastics packaging, and landfilling has been completely phased out. So the real issue is not whether to compost or to incinerate bioplastic packaging, but to properly sort and recover it, so to achieve a substantial contribution to valorisation of wastes and thus increase resource efficiency. Even though organic recovery of compostable packaging did not seem really viable in Germany any longer, a ban of all non-biowaste-bag-products from the biowaste collection system does not seem the best solution. The significant advantage of compostable packaging, for example in the case of the disposal of spoiled fruit and vegetables at the point of sale, is completely lost. The same is true for the disposal of compostable catering serviceware at large events, as long as these are properly and separately collected together with food residues. And there are certainly more examples. Here the compostability of plastic products exhibits significant added value. These solutions, together with biowaste bags, help to divert biowaste from landfill sites. Thus, even though landfill is not a critical topic in Germany any longer, the ban is a wrong signal to other countries where landfill is still used with biowaste causing a potential methane problem. In conclusion, the recovery of these materials through the packaging waste collection system (yellow bin) seems the most adequate recovery route. Implementing (real!) material recycling is, according to all known life cycle assessments, the most preferable option in terms of ecology, and, often enough, quite promising also in economic terms All trends, as well as the legal framework and the political landscape, show that Germany, with its highly environmentconscious consumers and politicians, has a high potential to become a large market for bioplastics. But it seems the industry will only succeed if it offers solutions that fit local circumstances and meets the demands of all involved stakeholders. bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/12] Vol. 7 43

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