30 May 2018 --- The European Commission’s new measures to combat growing levels of plastic pollution in the ocean are described as “vague regarding sustainable alternatives” by François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics (EUBP). EUBP claims that bioplastics can offer sustainable alternatives for the products being targeted in the new legislation, including cotton buds, straws and drink stirrers.
The European Commission presented an ambitious new Directive to tackle marine litter by introducing a number of measures including reduction and restriction of selected single-use plastic products, such as disposable balloon sticks, straws, cutlery, plates, cups and food containers.
“Bioplastics can offer such sustainable and safe alternatives for some of these identified products,” Katrin Schwede, Head of Communications, European Bioplastics, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “They are readily available and already widely used in the market, and they fulfill the high standards and requirements on food contact and safety.”
“Biobased plastics provide innovative, sustainable solutions through the use of renewable resources and a reduced carbon footprint. Compostable plastics offer additional benefits when products are mixed with food waste as they can help to facilitate a safe and hygienic collection and recycling of organic waste,” she adds.
Click to EnlargeAccording to EUBP, the potential positive impacts of the already introduced measures in the revised EU waste legislation need to be assessed first. Additional actions as presented in the proposal should be based on these efforts and efficiently tie in with such developments in the sense of better regulation. The proposal specifically foresees the substitution of currently used single-use products by “readily available, more sustainable materials.”
“Plastics have evolved to become one of the most closely scrutinized material categories existing today, especially when it comes to food packaging and catering items,” stresses de Bie. He describes the new legislation as “a meaningful addition to existing legislation and strategies” but reaffirms that “bioplastics can offer such sustainable and safe alternatives for some of these identified products.”
According to the EUBP, the proposed market restrictions on certain single-use catering items, such as plates and cutlery, does not seem to sufficiently consider the reality of food consumption today, and the proposal falls short on clearly defining the intended action. In a considerable number of contexts, single-use catering items are relevant and necessary, for example, in closed systems with integrated waste management schemes, such as airplanes, sports arenas, or open-air events. Safety and hygiene requirements need to be considered here, next to several other factors.
“In these specific cases, biobased plastic catering items can help to reduce environmental impacts, for example, through a lower carbon footprint. Whether the items should be mechanically recyclable or compostable depends on the defined waste management concept of the respective closed system,” suggests de Bie.
EUBP is the European association representing the interests of the bioplastics industry along the entire value chain. Its members produce, refine, and distribute bioplastics i.e. plastics that are bio-based, biodegradable, or both.
The association says it is looking forward to working together with the EU institutions and all relevant stakeholders in the upcoming discussions on the proposal in order to ensure that bio-based plastics that are mechanically or organically recyclable are recognized as sustainable and available alternatives.
Innovation in biodegradable/compostable packaging solutions continues to expand and diversify, offering sustainable alternatives to plastics. Innova Market Insights reports a 40 percent increase in new food and beverage products packaged in biobased/biodegradable material (CAGR 2013-2017).
Meanwhile, PlasticsEurope also pledges support to the new marine pollution Directive while urging the commission to “avoid shortcuts and focus on improving waste management.” They stress that marine litter is a result of a combination of factors, the most important of which is the lack of implementation of waste-related legislation at national/regional level, the lack of proper waste management in some parts of the world and inappropriate littering behavior.Click to Enlarge
To reduce littering, PlasticsEurope calls for:
• Appropriate waste management infrastructure. Governments should integrate the issue of marine litter in their national waste management strategies: waste management infrastructure needs to be improved so that all plastic waste is collected and then used as a resource. Landfilling has to be avoided.
• Support for innovation and mindful product design.
• Awareness raising campaigns, which lead to responsible consumption and an understanding that waste is a resource.
PlasticsEurope urges the EU to avoid shortcuts: “Plastic product bans are not the solution and will not achieve the structural change needed to build the foundation for a sustainable and resource efficient economy; as alternative products may not be more sustainable.”
The EU’s Directive will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. The Commission urges the other institutions to treat this as a priority file, and to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019.
By Joshua Poole
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