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Issue 06/2015

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  • Bioplastics
  • Biobased
  • Plastics
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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1506

Films/Flexibles/Bags

Films/Flexibles/Bags Plastic bags in Italy The law – the market and real life… By Michael Thielen Almost 5 years after the bag ban law in Italy came into force, bioplastics MAGAZINE wanted first-hand information on the current situation in Italy. To that end, we therefore visited the greater Milan area for a couple of days in mid-October and spoke both to a number of stakeholders, as well as to real people, i. e. consumers. I was accompanied by Dr. Harald Kaeb, the founder and former chairman of European Bioplastics, who today is active as a consultant. Dr. Kaeb is a renowned expert in bioplastics and in what we call bagislation (bioplastics MAGAZINE will publish an update by Dr. Kaeb in issue 01/2016). We visited Vinçotte Italy to talk about some basic facts around the topic, spoke to a purchasing manager of one of the country’s largest supermarket chains, visited two manufacturers of biodegradable shopping bags, and a composting plant. Between these meetings, we visited a significant number of retail supermarkets and discounter stores, where we talked to a few of their customers immediately after they came through the checkout counter. The law Much has been published (e. g. [1]) in the past 5 years about the shopping bag legislation in Italy. If you search the web for “bag ban Italy”, Google immediately turns up 2.5 million hits. In brief: on January 1, 2011 a law [2] came into force in Italy, which said that the single-use plastic shopping bags with thicknesses below 60 µm (100 µm for food-contact applications) distributed by retail stores must be made from biodegradable plastics (certified compostable according to EN 13432) or the stores should offer bags made from cloth, paper or other biodegradable materials. In the beginning, there was a transition phase to allow retailers to use up existing stocks of traditional plastic bags. Penalties for non-compliance were not introduced until August 2014. One goal of the law was to reduce the overall number of shopping bags used. And this has been achieved, at least to some extent: the total volume of shopping bags consumed in Italy was approximately 180,000 tonnes in 2010. “The total amount today is about 90,000 tonnes, 50,000 of which are biodegradable/compostable”, we were told by Claudio Puliti, Sales Manager at bag manufacturer IbiPLAST in Solbiate Olana. Another goal was the diversion of biowaste from landfill to composting, by having consumers use the compostable shopping bags for the collection of household biowaste. 18 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/15] Vol. 10

Films/Flexibles/Bags Whether this can be achieved with biodegradable shopping bag can, however, be debated. The “Annual Report of the Italian Composting and Biogas Association 2015” [3] states an increase of biowaste treated in Italian composting plants of 23 % (2005 – 2009) and 18 % (2009 – 2011) but of only 4,5 % in the period from 2011 to 2013, after the law came into force. And there is room for improvement, which is putting it mildly, as regards the third goal, as well. The idea was to reduce the number of conventional plastic bags in composting plants by replacing them with compostable bags. Our subjective impression when visiting the ENTSORGA composting facility in Santhía, as well as a sneak peek into some biowaste bins at the curb side, suggests that there is still some way to go before reaching this goal (see pictures on page 21). Some facts and figures The following facts and figures (source [3]) will help to provide a better understanding of the whole context. 5.2 million tonnes of organic waste from the separate collection of food and green waste was collected (and recycled in 240 Composting- or 43 Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants) in Italy in the year 2013. This biowaste is divided into so-called food waste (including both cooked and uncooked food residues, including meat, fish, etc.) and green waste (such as clippings from gardens and parks). These 5.2 million tonnes represent 42 % of the total amount of collected municipal solid waste (MSW) (27 % food-, 15 % green waste). Per inhabitant, this amounts to an average of 86 kg/a of separately collected biowaste. At the gates of the composting plants, the collected food waste shows an average contamination of 4.8 % of noncompostable materials. The market This article is not intended to give a complete overview of the overall market development of biodegradable/ compostable bags in Italy, but rather to present some examples about the concrete market situation for a few arbitrarily chosen stakeholders. At the first meeting during our trip, Barbara Calabria (Deputy General Manager, Vinçotte Italy) gave a general overview of the situation in Italy. One of her first remarks was, that, even if all compostable shopping bags must be certified by an independent third party and thus must show either the OK compost logo, the Seedling or the Italian CIC (Consorzio Italiano Compostatori) Logo, “we were and are still surprised of what some Italians come up with, using their creativity and phantasy…” as Barbara put it. The majority of bags, however, is properly certified and marked. Unlike in many other countries, single-use shopping bags are not given away for free at the supermarkets; instead, consumers are charged a fee of 0.05 or – in most cases – 0.10 Euro per bag. Exemptions are, for example, local markets or pharmacies or the like. It was unclear, however, whether local street markets were also required to offer compostable bags: on one such market in Borgomanero we saw just one stand (chicken products) that offered compostable bags – all the others were giving out conventional PE bags. Oxo-fragmentable bags have been a problem in Italy, but, according to Barbara, it is a problem that is getting smaller. One reason is a number of lawsuits that Vinçotte have won in their fight against the misuse of their OK- Compost-Logo. Vinçotte is one of the very important gatekeepers controlling the compliance of market players and certificate owners. Retail stores The retail market in Italy includes a number of really large supermarket chains – so-called hypermarkets – such as ipercoop, Carrefour, Esselunga, Auchan, Conad and others. We were happy to talk to a purchasing manager of one of these chains 1 , whom we’ll call Mario. Long before biodegradable shopping bags became mandatory in Italy, this supermarket had already started to introduce such bags over fifteen years ago (a few hundred thousand per year in the late 1990s). The quality of the early bio-bags was not very good, Mario explained, so the bags were not well accepted by the consumers. Moreover, composting in general was not as well established at the 1 The legal department of the supermarket chain withdrew permission to mention the name a week after our visit. Examples of different compostable shopping bags Street market in Borgomanero bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/15] Vol. 10 19

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