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Issue 05/2017

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Opinion Biodegradable

Opinion Biodegradable plastics needed to increase recycling efficiency In the light of the current debates and consultations on the upcoming EU Strategy on Plastics and the revision of the EU waste legislation, European Bioplastics (EUBP), the association for the bioplastics industry in Europe, echoes the call for greater investments in the implementation of separate recycling streams, made by the association of Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) earlier this week. In a press release, PRE calls for the development of separate recycling streams for biodegradable plastics to improve waste management efficiency throughout Europe. EUBP supports these efforts to ensure a high quality of recycled plastics. In order to implement a circular economy throughout Europe and to achieve higher recycling rates, stronger investments in the modernisation of the waste management infrastructure, including separate mechanical and organic recycling streams, are needed. Biodegradable plastics help to reduce contamination of mechanical recycling streams by facilitating separate collection of biowaste and therefore diverting organic waste from other recycling streams. Organic recycling is a wellestablished industrial process ensuring the circular use for biodegradable plastics while creating a strong secondary raw material market and opportunity for renewable energy generation. Numerous beacon projects throughout Europe demonstrate the positive effects of compostable bags on the efficiency and quality of separate organic waste collection, including in the cities of Milan, Munich, and Paris. Currently, the share of biodegradable plastics designed for organic recycling sold in the EU is comparatively small. Therefore, the potential of misthrows by the consumer to reach a critical volume that could impact the quality of mechanical recycling streams is an unreasonable assumption at this point in time. This has also been tested and confirmed in a recent study by the University of Wageningen, which analysed biodegradable plastics in mechanical recycling streams and detected levels not higher than 0.3%. When tested within the EU FP7 Open-Bio project, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research found that there were no negative effects on the properties of recycled film products containing starch film and PLA film recyclates. If biodegradable plastic products do, however, enter mechanical recycling streams, they can easily be sorted out. Research by Knoten Weimar, a scientific knowledge-cluster and institute at the Bauhaus- University Weimar focussed on optimising utilities and waste infrastructures, shows that available sorting technologies such as NIR (near infrared) can easily detect biodegradable plastic materials such as PLA (polylactic acid), PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalate), and other starch or cellulose based materials. On the other hand, however, contamination of organic waste streams by misthrows of non-biodegradable plastics is high and constitutes a real problem for composting facilities and negatively affects the quality of compost. This problem can only be tackled by establishing mandatory separate collection of organic waste supported and facilitated by the use of biodegradable plastic bags and packaging and accompanied by consumer education and information on correct ways of organic and mechanic recycling. EUBP urges all involved stakeholders to consider recycling as both mechanical and organic recycling and to contemplate the corresponding plastic materials in this context. Furthermore, investments into sound waste management infrastructure across Europe as well as comprehensive projects to increase the consumers’ knowledge about correct disposal need to be considered. Only then, recycling can become more efficient, contamination can be limited, and a strong secondary raw material market in a circular economy will flourish. For more information, please see the following expert statements and studies on this issue: • Wageningen Food & Biobased Research (2017): Biobased and biodegradable plastics – Facts and Figures • Knoten Weimar: Entsorgungswege und Verwertungsoptionen von Produkten aus biobasierten Polymeren des post-consumer Bereichs (German only) Magnetic for Plastics • International Trade in Raw Materials, Machinery & Products Free of Charge. • Daily News from the Industrial Sector and the Plastics Markets. • Current Market Prices for Plastics. • Buyer’s Guide for Plastics & Additives, Machinery & Equipment, Subcontractors and Services. • Job Market for Specialists and Executive Staff in the Plastics Industry. Up-to-date • Fast • Professional 42 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/17] Vol. 12

Basics Land use Just how much land is required to produce bioplastics? By: Constance Ißbrücker Head of Environmental Affairs European Bioplastics Berlin, Germany Global land area G13.4 billion ha = 100 % Finite fossil oil resources and climate change constitute two broadly acknowledged challenges for society in the coming decades. Bioplastics, which are derived fully or in part from renewable, plant-based resources, have the unique advantage over conventional plastics to reduce the dependency on fossil resources and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today, bioplastics are predominantly produced from agrobased feedstock, i.e. plants that are rich in carbohydrates, such as corn or sugarcane. At the same time, the bioplastics industry is investing in the research and development to diversify the availability of biogenic feedstock for the production of based plastics. The industry particularly aims to further develop fermentation technologies that enable the utilisation of ligno-cellulosic feedstock sources, for example non-food crops or agricultural waste materials. There are various ways to ensure a sufficient supply of biomass for the production for food, feed, and industrial/ material uses (including bioplastics) now and in future. These include: 1. Broadening the base of feedstock: The bioplastics industry is currently working mostly with agro-based feedstock. Several projects, however, are already looking into using plant residues or other ligno-cellulosic feedstock. 2. Increasing yields: Increasing the efficiency of industrial conversion of raw materials into feedstock, for example by using optimised yeasts or bacteria and optimised physical and chemical processes that would increase the total availability of resources. 3. Taking fallow land into production: There is still plenty of arable land in various geographical regions available for production, even in the European Union (see separate box) Pasture 3.5 billion ha = 26.1 % lobal agricultural area Arable land* 1.4 billion ha = 10.4 % 5 billion ha = 36.5 % Food & Feed 1.24 billion ha = 9.25 % Graph courtesy IfBB [1] Bioplastics 2015: 750 000 ha = 0.0056 % 2020: 1 784 000 ha = 0.0133 % Material use 106 million ha = 0.79 % Biofuels 53 million ha = 0.39 % Latest numbers by the IfBB Hanover published in 2016 show that the area used to produce so-called new economy bioplastics was 0.0056 % of the global agricultural area in 2015. Considering continued high growth-rates of the bioplastics market over the next years, this share would increase to 0.0133 % of the agricultural area by 2020. The approach of the IfBB is considered to be a conservative one, as entire plants are allocated for the calculation, and a tenyear average value considering harvest fluctuation as well as full utilisation of plant capacities is being assumed. Not all experts agree to this approach and suggest considering for example more detailed allocation values for the crop usage and the yield average values, since not necessarily all parts of the plant are used to produce bioplastics. However, all experts agree on one important point, namely the fact that the actual amount of land used for bioplastics is very low compared to the land used to produce food and feed, which shows that there is no competition between using biomass for the production for bioplastics and using biomass the production of food and feed. After all, responsibly sourced and monitored (i.e. sustainable) food crops are still the main feedstock option for bioplastics, since they are more land-efficient than non-food crops due to highly efficient agricultural processes. What is more, the use of bi-products of these food crops (i.e. lignocellulosic feedstocks) in based industries allows to increase resource efficiency even more. There is even evidence that the industrial and material use of biomass may in fact serve as a stabilizer for food prices, providing farmers with more secure markets and thereby leading to more sustainable production. Independent third party certification schemes for sustainable sourcing and responsible agricultural practices do already exist and can help to take social, environmental and economic criteria into account and to ensure that bioplastics are a purely beneficial innovation. [1] N.N.: Biopolymers – facts and statistics; Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, 2016 Info: Different sources come up with varying figures for „free“ arable land, the French National Institute For Agricultural Research gives 2.6 billion hectares of untapped potential (article in ParisTech, 2011), the nova-Institute calculates 570 million hectares based on figures of OECD and FAO (2009). The bottom line – there is an ample amount of unused land available. * Also includes area growing permanent crops as well as approx. 1 % fallow land. Abandoned land resulting from shifting cultivation is not included. bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/17] Vol. 12 43

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