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Issue 01/2020

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  • Bioplastics
  • Plastics
  • Biobased
  • Carbon
  • Renewable
  • Materials
  • Recycling
  • Packaging
  • Products
  • Sustainable
Highlights: Automotive Recycling Cover Story: Biobased Fur

Opinion Can bioplastics

Opinion Can bioplastics help the UK meet its zero plastic waste target? By: Damon Culbert Content Writer for The Juice Guru London, UK Since the UK announced a climate emergency in May last year, eco-consciousness has come to the fore of public discussion as consumers and brands alike look to change their practices to be more environmentally friendly. The announcement by the UK government was driven by climate action group Extinction Rebellion (London, UK) who staged an international rebellion in April to call attention to the mass inaction on climate change. Since then, the government has introduced plans to tackle emissions and established targets to reduce harmful environmental impact and keep the warming of the planet below 1.5 °C by 2050. One of these targets involves removing all avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Plastic waste is a popular environmental concern, as single-use plastics use up non-renewable oil resources and have a short usage life. But can the government competently deal with the issue in time and what role might bioplastics play in reducing single-use plastic waste? UK waste targets In the wake of the climate emergency acknowledgement, the UK government has introduced ambitious environmental targets, including: • An ambition of zero avoidable waste by 2050 • A target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042 • An ambition to work towards all plastic packaging on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 Scotland has also set a recycling target of 70 % by 2025 to take the pledges of the UK further. Plans the government is considering Packaging producers’ tax Currently a 10 % tax, the government intends to charge plastic producers a 100 % tax for using single-use plastic packaging to encourage producers to reduce plastic and find natural alternatives. This will be highly beneficial for the bioplastic industry and will encourage innovation in the pursuit of sustainability. Consistent recycling policy Local authorities set their own kerbside recycling policies, meaning that items which could be recycled are often sent to landfill and there are discrepancies across different counties. The government intends to roll out a universal recycling policy so that all waste collectors are processing recyclables in the same way. With a universal policy, packagers and councils will be able to clearly inform consumers of how to dispose of their waste. Deposit return scheme (DRS) With considerable success in European countries such as Germany, Finland and Norway, a DRS would encourage consumers to properly recycle their single-use plastics, helping to increase recycling rates across the UK. This could reduce the need for plastic producers to use virgin single-use plastics. Single-use plastic issues Single-use packaging makes up an estimated two thirds of all plastic waste in the UK. The UK government statistics from 2016 state that 91 % of all plastic waste is sent to ‘recycling and recovery’ with 9 % going to landfill. The WWF, on the other hand, suggest that these statistics are more likely 29 % recycling, 48 % landfill and 22 % energy recovery. The government’s figures don’t take into account plastic waste processed as ‘households and similar waste’, showing that getting a proper understanding of how exactly the UK is dealing with plastic waste is a major part of the issue. Global plastic production counts for 6 % of worldwide oil use and contributes 390 million tonnes of CO 2 to global emissions. To meet their targets and work towards substantially dealing with climate breakdown, the UK government will need to reduce their oil usage and plastic emissions. While bioplastics are not universally used by producers, this could be about to change. Benefits of bioplastics Less energy to make PLA is the most commonly used bioplastic in packaging and is produced from the fermentation of corn, wheat or 26 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/20] Vol. 15

Opinion Photo by Justin Bautista on Unsplash sugarcane. The production of PLA saves 2.3 times the energy to make in comparison to petrochemical plastic and produces around 70 % less greenhouses gasses when it degrades. Can be processed in the same plants PLA is also similar enough to comparable petrochemical plastic that it can be processed in the same plants, requiring less initial investment for producers to start using it on a larger scale. Don’t use non-renewable oil Unlike traditional plastic, PLA production depends on agricultural feedstock, meaning no non-renewable substances are used, reducing the harmful environmental impact of oil extraction. New innovative alternatives While agricultural feedstock can require a certain amount of land, however far away from competition with food production, there are a number of innovations which could see plastic produced from other sources, including wastewater, milk protein and algae. If more is invested in bioplastic research, cheaper, less wasteful alternatives will become more substantial and attractive to manufacturers. Drawbacks of bioplastics Breakdown produces greenhouse gasses Bioplastics made from plant products can be broken down into carbon dioxide and water, leaving behind no harmful residue to pollute the ground or oceans. However, the carbon dioxide released is still a greenhouse gas. BUT, biobased plastics can only emit the amount of CO 2 the plants they are made of have absorbed from atmosphere during their growth phase. Some bioplastics also produce methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. On the other hand, methane is produced only in anaerobic digestion plants (biogasification) where it is captured and used to generate energy. Or it is produced in lower layers in landfills, where there is no more ogxygen present. Thus, landfills, where thy cannot be avoided in general, should be managed (covered) in a way, that the methane (also coming from organic waste, such as food residues or yard clippings) can be captured and exploited for energy. In any case, the mass adoption of bioplastics will need to take into consideration the environmental impacts of every step of the product’s life. Often only break down under specific circumstances There is a huge range of bioplastic variations, not all of which are biodegradable. Some of the biodegradable bioplastics break down in household compost, others require more intense heat to break down. Without clearly explaining to consumers the best way to dispose of the product, having a variety of bioplastic products could inadvertently cause more waste through improper disposal. Multiple plastics on the market could confuse recyclers As previously mentioned, there are many different kinds of bioplastic already being made and used for consumer use. If petrochemical plastic was entirely replaced with a variety of bioplastics, this would be beneficial to the environment in reducing emissions but could result in similar levels of waste. With each type being broken down in specific ways, a variety of plastics could frustrate household recycling attempts. As long as the minimal (critical) amount for collecting and recycling of biobased plastics economically is not reached yet, waste-to-energy incineration is a good compromise, as these biobased plastics are a kind of “renewable energy”. Here too biobased plastics can only emit the amount of CO 2 the plants they are made of have absorbed from atmosphere during their growth phase. The future of UK plastics The UK must tackle the issue of single-use plastic if it is to meet its environmental targets over the new few decades. Though there are a number of issues which producers and the government will need to assess and minimise to ensure sustainability is prioritised, bioplastics offer environmental benefits that could be integral to considerably reducing UK emissions contributions. bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/20] Vol. 15 27

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