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Issue 03/2017

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  • Bioplastics
  • Biobased
  • Packaging
  • Materials
  • Plastics
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  • Biodegradable
  • Renewable
  • European
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Basics Frequently asked

Basics Frequently asked questions By: Michael Thielen One of the most important aims of bioplastics MAGAZINE is to answer any questions that people may have about biobased and biodegradable plastics. However, a number of questions tend to be asked again and again by newcomers to the field. European Bioplastics has compiled a comprehensive set of FAQs, which can be found on that organization’s website. A condensed version of this FAQ page was also published in bioplastics MAGAZINE, issue 03/2015. Now, however, European Bioplastics is thoroughly updating its FAQ page, with added information and new FAQ topics. It will be on their website soon. To keep readers abreast of these changes, a few of the most noteworthy are presented here. We have focussed on topics that are current, hot or that address various misconceptions or myths. The complete list of FAQs can be found on the FAQ page on the website of European Bioplastics. How does European Bioplastics define “bioplastics“? Bioplastics are biobased, biodegradable, or both. The term biobased describes the part of a material or product that is derived from biomass. When making a biobased claim, the unit (biobased carbon content or biobased mass content) expressed as a %age and the method of measurement should be clearly stated. Biodegradability is an inherent property of certain polymers that can be suitable for specific applications, e.g. biowaste bags. Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials, with the help of microorganisms, are metabilised into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. When materials biodegrade under conditions and within a timeframe defined by the European standards for industrial composting EN 13432, they can be certied and labelled as industrially compostable. How large is the bioplastics market – currently and in future? Currently, bioplastics represent about one per cent of the about 320 million tonnes (Source: Plastics Europe) of plastic produced annually. But as demand is rising and with more sophisticated materials, applications, and products emerging, the market is already growing by about 20 to 100 % per year. According to the latest market data compiled by European Bioplastics, global production capacity of bioplastics is predicted to grow by 50 % in the medium term, from around 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to approximately 6.1 million tonnes in 2021. Can a sufficient supply of bioplastics be guaranteed? Supply is well ensured to meet the growing demand in the short and medium term. However, it is difficult to make long-term forecasts due to the dynamic and innovative nature of the bioplastic market. A reliable legislative framework in the EU would be beneficial to further attract investment and ensure supply in the long run. In recent years, numerous joint ventures have been established. Planned investments in bioplastic production capacities have been made. Initial facilities producing various types of bioplastics are operating in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Additional facilities and biorefineries are currently being set up in different regions from Italy to Thailand to produce bioplastics, including starch compounds, PLA, biobased PBS, biobased PE, or biobased PET. These investments and scale-ups are reflected in European Bioplastics’ market data, which show growth in capacity from 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 to roughly 6.1 million tonnes in 2021. What are the economic advantages of bioplastics? As an important part of the bioeconomy, bioplastics are a future lead market offering job creation, development of rural areas and global export opportunities for innovative technologies. According to a recent job market analysis conducted by EuropaBio, the European bioplastics industry could realise a steep employment growth over the next decades. In 2013, the bioplastics industry accounted for around 23,000 jobs in Europe. With the right framework conditions in place, this number could increase more than tenfold by 2030, with up to 300,000 high-skilled jobs being created in the European bioplastics sector. The European bioeconomy sectors are worth 2 trillion euros in annual turnover and account for 22 million jobs in the EU. That is approx. 9 % of the EU’s workforce. How accepted are bioplastic products by consumers? The increase in the use of bioplastics is driven by an increasing demand for sustainable products by consumers due to a growing awareness of the impact on the environment. To the environmentally conscious customer, the advantages of being biobased give bioplastics the competitive edge to conventional plastics. About 80 % of European consumers want to buy products with a minimal impact on the environment (Eurobarometer survey, European Commission, 2013) and brands and companies turn to bioplastic solutions to respond to these demands. What is more, according to the German Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) and the Straubing Center of Science (2009), consumers want to see more products made from bioplastics on the market. Yet, consumers are not always very well informed about bioplastics, which leads to some misunderstandings and wrong expectations about the nature of bioplastics and poses a challenge 44 bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/17] Vol. 12

Basics for bioplastics penetrating the consumer market. Joint efforts by the bioplastics industry and brands to inform about bioplastic materials and products are however contributing towards an increased awareness and better understanding of bioplastics amongst consumers. Is there a certain percentage threshold value that marks the minimal biobased carbon content / biobased mass content in a product/material to be called bioplastic? There is no common agreement on a minimal value yet due to varying regional regulations in Europe. In Japan an industry-wide commitment sets the “biomass margin” at “25 % renewable material”. According to the USDA Biopreferred Programme, “the minimum share of renewable material ranges from 7 to 95 %” depending on defined product category rules. Although there is no minimum value, acknowledged labelling options for biobased plastics are available to clearly and transparently indicate the biobased content of a material or product. The certifiers Vinçotte and DIN CERTCO offer a progressive certification scheme and according labels based on ISO 16620-2 or the European standard EN 16640 (or ASTM D 6866), which provide proof the biobased carbon content of a material or product. Is there competition between food, feed and bioplastics regarding agricultural area? The feedstock currently used for the production of bioplastics relies on only about 0.01 % of the global agricultural area – compared to 96 % of the area, which is used for the production of food and feed. This clearly demonstrates that there is no competition between food/feed and industrial production. Of the 13.4 billion hectares of global land surface, around 37 % (5 billion hectares) is currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70 %, approx. 3.5 billion hectares) and arable land (30 %, approx. 1.4 billion hectares). This 30 % of arable land is further divided into areas predominantly used for growing food crops and feed (26 %, approx. 1.26 billion hectares), as well as crops for materials (2 %, approx. 106 million hectares, including the 680,000 hectares used for bioplastics) , and crops for biofuels (1 %, approx. 53 million hectares). Moreover, advanced integrated production processes, for example in biorefineries, are already able to produce several different kinds of products out of one specific feedstock – including products for food, feed, and products, such as bioplastics. Is the use of non-food feedstock feasible? Yes, to some extend. Today, bioplastics are predominantly produced from agro-based feedstock (i.e. plants that are rich in carbohydrates). At the same time, the bioplastics industry is investing in research and development to diversify the availability of biogenic feedstock for the production of biobased plastics. The industry particularly aims to further develop fermentation technologies that enable the utilisation of other ligno-cellulosic feedstock sources, such as non-food crops or waste from food crops, in the medium and long term. The production of ligno-cellulosic sugars and ethanol in particular are regarded as a promising technological approach. Does the use of GMO feedstock for the production of bioplastics, e.g. for packaging applications, have an impact on human health? If GM crops are used for the production of biobased plastics, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer remove all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastic product contains no traces of GMO. Should the bioplastic be used for e.g. food packaging, this packaging will be well suited for the purpose as it contains no genetically modified material and cannot interact with the contents. However most bioplastics in the market are made from GMO free feedstock. What is biodegradation? Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials are metabolised into CO 2 , water, and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the conditions (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, presence of microorganisms, etc.) of the specific environment (industrial composting plant, garden compost, soil, water, etc.) and on the material or application itself. Consequently, the process and its outcome can vary considerably. What is the difference between oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable plastics? The underlying technology of oxo-degradability or oxo-fragmentation is based on special additives, which are purported to accelerate the fragmentation of the film products if incorporated into standard resins. The resulting fragments remain in the environment. Biodegradability is an inherent characteristic of a material or product. In contrast to oxo-fragmentation, biodegradation results from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms. The process produces water, carbon dioxide and biomass as end products. Oxo-fragmentable materials cannot biodegrade as defined in industry accepted standard specifications such as ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, ASTM, D7081 or EN 13432. Do bioplastics contaminate mechanical recycling streams? As with conventional plastics, bioplastics need to be recycled separately (by stream type). Bioplastic materials for which a recycling stream already exists (e.g. biobased PE and biobased PET) can easily be recycled together with their conventional counterparts. Other bioplastics for which no separate streams yet exist, are very unlikely to end up in mechanical recycling streams due to sophisticated sorting and treatment procedures (positive selection). PLA can technically be mechanically recycled. Info: The complete set of European Bioplastics’ FAQ can be found at their website: A pdf-version of the FAQ can be downloaded from bioplastics MAGAZINE [03/17] Vol. 12 45

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