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Issue 01/2019

  • Text
  • Renewable
  • Sustainable
  • Packaging
  • Biodegradable
  • Materials
  • Products
  • Plastics
  • Biobased
  • Bioplastics
Highlights: Automotive Foam Basics: Green public procurement Cover Story: PHB for food packaging

Opinion Are

Opinion Are Biodegradable plastics “a false solution”? Francesco Degli Innocenti, Ecology of Products Director, Novamont, Italy The Directive on Single Used Plastics is banning the “top 10 trash items” littered in beaches if made with conventional plastics. On the other hand, “non-plastic” single-use products are exempted based on the assumption that they do not affect the environment in case of leakage. Unfortunately, biodegradable plastic items have been equated with conventional plastics even though they have not been found littered in beaches. Why so? Clearly not fact but political preconceptions based on social, emotional, ideological beliefs. Why is this happening? Maybe because the category “biodegradable plastics” sounds like an oxymoron, similarly to “non-radioactive plutonium”. The term “plastics” is associated with persistency, toxicity, fossil fuels, climate change. This is quite unfortunate because strictly speaking “plastics” just refers to moldability, i.e. the capability to be easily shaped [1] , and not on the persistency or toxicity in the environment. Plutonium only exists in one form: radioactive. Plastics on the other hand can be non-biodegradable, partly biodegradable, totally biodegradable etc. A criticism continuously raised by many is that biodegradable plastics are “a false solution because they will not sufficiently degrade in case of littering in the sea”. This is a very powerful and harmful message for the sector of bioplastics. It links the term “biodegradable plastics” with “false”. However, it is a fallacious argument. The premise is wrong and thus the conclusion is wrong and misleading. It is a typical example of “argumentum ad nauseam” i.e. the logical fallacy that something becomes true if it is repeated often enough. The implicit premise is that biodegradable plastics were developed to solve the problem of littering …and failed the expectations. But this premise is wrong. Biodegradable plastics were developed to make compostable products or products for agriculture both of which are designed to biodegrade within specific boundaries. Biodegradation of compostable products happens in waste treatment plants, within boundaries limited in space (the composting plant) and time (the composting cycle necessary to produce quality compost). Likewise, biodegradation of agricultural applications (i.e. mulch films) happens within specific boundaries, limited in space (the mulched field) and time (the growing season of the crop). Standards that establish biodegradability product performance and safe environmental credentials for plastics that might be intentionally composted or used in agriculture do exist: EN 13432 [2] and EN 17033 [3]. But in case of uncontrolled leakage into the environment what is the expected role of biodegradability? Materials showing marine biodegradation are already available [4, 5]. But any waste, whether biodegradable or not, must be collected and managed in a waste treatment plant. Independent of whether the single-use product is biodegradable or not, any uncontrolled leakage is a potential harm to the environment (a risk). That said, leakage into the environment can happen but we are not able yet to measure the associated risk. The uncontrolled release of packaging and plastics items into the environment is a random event, without space and time boundaries. Where, when, how much, persistence, etc. All these questions must be tentatively answered in order to assess the impact and the risk posed to the environment by leakage of single-use products (made with any material). Thus, probability needs to be considered when addressing littering and the ecological risk. We can claim a product to be compatible with composting, because biodegradation will happen within space and time boundaries. We, the bioplastics industry and society cannot claim a product to be “harmless” in case of littering, because there will always be a probability of damage likewise we should not aim to qualify a product as “ready-for- littering” based on its presumed biodegradability. In conclusion: 1: Biodegradable plastics are a true solution for organic recycling. Biodegradable plastics are made for controlled recovery. The normative framework is very clear and robust, and we can state that biodegradability is needed for recovery by organic recycling, in compliance with the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive’s essential requirements . 2: 80 % of marine litter comes from land. Thus, the quest for a standard on “marine biodegradability” of plastics is actually out-of-focus. Littering mostly happens in cities, parks, terrains along the routes, etc. A standard on “marine biodegradability” of single-use products and packaging means a standard (and presumption that it is good) on “Environmental fate of littered waste”. 3: A methodology for impact and risk assessment of littering is needed. Any mitigation action must be based on the capability of measuring the addressed problem and then design, implement, and monitor the actions meant to contrast it. Currently a specific methodology for the assessment of the risk and impact of post-consumer waste in case of littering is not available. 4: Biodegradability reduces the risk. Persistence (e.g. soil and marine biodegradability) is clearly a factor that influences the amount of litter present in the environment. Thus, it is important to characterise the biodegradability of products in order to determine the risk associated with leakage but keeping in mind that in any cases all products are expected to be recovered References. [1] It derives from the Greek πλαστικός (plastikos) “capable of being shaped or molded” [2] Packaging. Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation. Test scheme and evaluation criteria for the final acceptance of packaging [3] Plastics. Biodegradable mulch films for use in agriculture and horticulture. Requirements and test methods [4] F. Degli Innocenti (2012) bioplastics MAGAZINE 04(vol 7):44-45 [5] F. Degli Innocenti (2016) bioplastics MAGAZINE 02(vol 11):16-17 42 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/19] Vol. 14

Automotive International Congress 3 rd and 4 th April 2019, Mannheim, Germany + + + + + + Industry meeting-point with 120 exhibitors 30 hand-picked lectures 20 interactive workshops World Cafés: Manufacturing trends in plastic components Hands-on area: exhibits to touch and discuss Job Wall & Guided Tours + New Mobility Area and Future Zone New concept based on participant votes! # noplasticsnomobility Register now! with friendly support of: bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/19] Vol. 14 43

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