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Issue 06/2016

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Basics Certification –

Basics Certification – blessing and curse By: Michael Thielen Certification is necessary. And within the scope of this magazine we talk about the certification of the compostability of bioplastics (according to e.g. EN 13432, ASTM D6400 or similar) and the certification of biobased carbon content of bioplastics (according to e.g. ASTM D6866 or EN 16640). Is certification a blessing for this industry or rather a curse? Every now and then you hear arguments like “certification is necessary” … “Yes but the cost” … “each product needs new certification” … etc. bioplastics MAGAZINE spoke to a number of stakeholders. Certification is necessary for example to differentiate “the good from the bad”, the honest companies from the “greenwashers” or for example the “gold-diggers from the serious suppliers”, as Patrick Gerritsen, founder and CEO of Bio4pack (Rheine, Germany) put it. Certification is a “proof of quality”, said Lukas Willhauck, of DIN Certco (Berlin, Germany). Certification differentiates those companies that are seriously interested, that invest in products and in certification from those that are just flowing with the trends, Patrick said. “If you talk about the costs of certification,” Philippe Dewolfs of Vinçotte (Vilvoorde, Belgium) started, “you must differentiate between the cost of the R&D stage when developing the products to fulfil the requirements of the standards and the cost of the certification itself. Even when you use the selfclaim approach rather than the certification approach, you have to test the product to demonstrate its compliance to the standard”. The cost for the certification (assessing that a product is fulfilling the requirements of a standard) however is only a fraction of that, EUR 1500-2500, as Philippe and Lukas told bioplastics MAGAZINE. But the R&D and lab test is a necessary first step in the certification process. Certification gives a certain level of trust What certification and labelling do, as Philippe continues, is to translate a set of rather complex information (e.g. 100 pages of a lab test protocol) into an easy to understand message. And as certification can only be performed by specialised, recognised and accredited certification bodies, such as Vinçotte or DIN Certco in Europe, BPI in the USA and others around the World, customers (B2B) as well as end consumers can trust that certified products do really fulfil what they promise. That is why a certification always includes the right to use a respective label and print this on a product. In Europe there are for example the OK compost or OK biobased labels, the Seedling or the DIN-geprüft labels. Other countries have their own labels. “And this is really useful and helpful, as it helps us to distinguish our products from the competitors’ and helps us convince our customers”, said Patrick Gerritsen. And Philippe Dewolfs added that no difference is made between big well-known companies and small unknown companies maybe coming from an exotic country. “Coca-Cola for example might never put a certification-label on their product. They use their own green mark plant bottle and if they claim something everybody will believe them,” he said. “But if a product from a small company complies with the standards and gets a certification and a label, this can significantly help and give this small company credibility”. Hurdles and challenges – and approaches to overcome these Certification of each product One of the problems, that was reported to bioplastics MAGAZINE is, that for each individual product a separate certification is needed. And this can become a costly endeavour. “If I make a final product from a certain raw material (already certified), I need a separate certification for each end product. That’s what I do not understand”, said Huib Burggraaf of Van Der Windt Verpakking (Honselersdijk, The Netherlands), a supplier of packaging and disposables. Well, this is obviously fixed in the standards. “But why do I need another certification, if I make a shopping bag from the exact same film as another already certified biowaste collection bag?” asked another stakeholder from the packaging industry. “That’s indeed sometimes difficult to understand”, said Lukas Willhauck, “because it is a complex topic. In any case, be it for simple amendments or for extensively modified products, a new application is needed with all the info we need.” But of course both certification bodies mentioned here (as well as others probably too) offer certificates for product families such as “shopping bags”. here even different materials, printing inks, product sizes can be considered. “And if later additional features or modifications shall be added, this can be done for a small fee,” Lukas Willhauck explained. “If however, additional testing is necessary, for example if a raw material was not previously certified by DIN Certco, or it was tested by non-accredited lab, or problematic additives are added, the efforts are much higher - and more costly,“ he added. “The prejudice that for a different print design always a new certificate is necessary, is simply wrong,” Lukas pointed out. “Different designs with the same amount of printing ink for example are no problem. An additional colour, however, needs an amendmend of a certificate, unless in the initial certification several alternative colours had already been appplied for.” Complex indeed... However with the OK compost certification of Vinçotte it is slightly different than for the Seedling certification. “We do not make a difference between a waste collection bag and a shopping bag, both will be covered by the same certificate because the products are very close,” explained Philippe Dewolfs. “The Seedling certification scheme requires to separate between certificates for shopping bags and waste bags due to the rule that the intended use requires another technical type and therefore certificate.”, said Lukas Willhauck. 42 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/16] Vol. 11

Basics number of firms that don’t. Arguments are for example, that consumers not only throw certified compostable bags in the biowaste bins, but also conventional bags. And in the composting plant it is almost impossible to distinguish, let alone sort the bags out. Another important fact is, that e.g. EN 13432 is about 15 or 20 years old. The 90 days for a complete disintegration given in that standard are by far not an up-todate timeframe. Many industrial composting plants run at cycles of eight weeks or even down to three weeks. These problems are certainly not so easy to solve. A lot of research as well as education, communication and discussion will be needed. A first approach is that representatives of the certification bodies meet twice a year in an Advisory Committee (on the Seedling logo) to discuss such problems and harmonise the positions. Examples for different compostability lables: The Seedling, the OK Compost label, the US/Canada composting label and the Japanese GreenPLA compostable label The minimum for all cases, however, is to do an infrared spectrum of any product, “as this is kind of a fingerprint of the raw material including all additives, glues, printing inks etc.” both, Philippe and Lukas added unison. Scarce support A while ago, there was some criticism about the support from the certification bodies. “They are not exactly customer oriented, but rather behave like governmental organisations – doing everything by the book,” was mentioned. If you filled in the forms incompletely or incorrect, you had to start over. They didn’t help very much. But this has changed. “We hired a significant number of people to improve the service,” said Lukas Willhauck. “We do all we can to reduce the complexity of the requirenments to our customers and try to find the most efficient and lean solution.” And Huib Burggraaf confirmed: “The communication with DIN Certco has improved. When I have questions, I get answers real quick, as it is with Vinçotte”. Patrick Gerritsen: “Yes the support is better than in the past, but there is still room for improvement”. Huib Burggraaf also appreciates the support by the certification bodies to police that companies misusing the labels – he calls them cowboys – shall be identified and prosecuted. Certified compostable – but not always accepted by composters This is indeed a problem confirmed by many of our interview partners. In Germany for example, the biowaste collection is in the hands of private companies or municipalities with no obligation to accept compostable plastics. So many waste disposal contractors accept it, but there are also a significant New EN standard Another concern is, that products that are already certified biobased according to ASTM D6866 (OK biobased or DINgeprüft based on 12 C/ 14 C radio carbon method) might need to be certified again when the new European standard EN 16640 comes into force. This concern, however, is expected baseless, as Lara Dammer (nova Institute, Hürth. Germany and active member of working groups of CEN/TC 411 on biobased products) explained. CEN pays attention to consider the contents of the ASTM standard so the new EN standard will not be completely different and existing certifications will probably not become useless. This topic becomes a bit more complicated when EN 16785-1 comes into play. Here in addition to the biobased carbon content ( 12 C/ 14 C) a differentiation is made for the so called “biobased content”, which considers also other atoms like oxygen and hydrogen. (But this is a different topic and shall be discussed later in a separate article). But when it comes to biobased certification, Lara Dammer warns: “Certification of bio-based content is not the same as an ecolabel, and it should not be used in B2C communication as a label for environmentally advantageous products.” A fully or partly biobased product does indeed automatically save fossil resources in itself, but the LCAs for such products are rather complex, so that biobased products are not per se environmentally friendly. In order to fulfil the requirements of a true ecolabel, products need to be thoroughly evaluated case by case, Lara said. Outlook Certification is necessary. Certificates can help. But there are still some hurdles and challenges. The communication between bioplastic product suppliers and certification bodies has improved as well as the support and service by the certification bodies. Costs are there and sometimes high, but in most cases justifiable. Communication and cooperation between the bioplastics industry and the composting plants leaves room for improvement albeit the problems exist and don’t make it easier. bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/16] Vol. 11 43

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