Plastics are a key element of our modern lives given that they can easily be moulded into multiple shapes. In the form of packaging, they give our food a longer shelf-life, they contribute to health and hygiene, and are core elements for the construction of houses and transport. Given their importance, EU policy aims to transform the way plastic products are designed, produced, used and recycled in the EU in its upcoming Policy Framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics.
Like everyone else, we don’t want to see plastic waste litter the environment and we believe that plastic recycling rates must accelerate. Reducing waste and giving plastic waste new life by reusing and recycling are fundamental to ensuring a better future for the planet and build a circular economy. This is where the EU chemical industry has an important role to play.
Bio-based plastics (BBP), and biodegradable and compostable plastics (BDCP), with proven environmental and climate benefits, e.g. based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies, can play a key role in achieving the “Fit for 55” and climate neutral economy ambitions, as well as the restoring sustainable carbon cycles,
How? As plants grow, and thanks to photosynthesis, they capture and use the carbon from the atmosphere. This “captured carbon” is thus stored over the life span of any product made out of this biomass. Thanks to recycling this “biomass based product”-life span can be further prolonged and as long as the plastics do not degrade when recycled, It can continue to keep the carbon embedded in the material.
EU needs a different approach to Bio-based plastics to unlock their full potential
Why? Because BBP and BDCP are not the same. BBPs are fully or partially made from biological resources, rather than fossil raw materials. As such, they help reduce the use of fossil resources and the emission of greenhouse gases. BDCPs biodegrade in certain conditions, and can be produced from either bio-based or fossil raw material. In terms of benefits, they can help reduce plastic waste.
For BBPs, Cefic highlights the need for an enabling policy framework to facilitate the transition to alternative, bio-based feedstocks for plastics. An enabling framework entails ensuring a level-playing field, clarity on the classification of bio-based plastics, and a consistent Life Cycle Analysis, among others. This will help bio-based plastics contribute to meeting the ambitions of the EU Green Deal in general, and the net-zero and sustainable carbon cycle targets more specifically.
Where BDCPs are concerned, Europe has been a pioneer thanks to a series of measures that enable their development. To continue being a leader in that field, it is important to incentivise the use of BDCPs where they prove to be valuable from an LCA perspective and consistent with circular economy principles. As such, Cefic calls on EU Policymakers for harmonised standards for biodegradability and compostability, clear, transparent and credible labelling, and a robust and trusted Life Cycle Analysis in compliance with ISO 14040/14067 or Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) to support the claimed environmental benefits. Also crucial, there should be no “free pass” for littering, a product that is biodegradable and compostable cannot be thrown away and disposed of in the environment. Recycling should remain the preferred fate for plastics.
Some of our recommendations apply for both BDCPs and BBPs, such as clarity and consistency of the terminology and definitions, and relevant, enabling and swiftly applicable sustainability criteria for feedstocks including biodiversity safeguards, that consider the particularities of each sector.