The European Commission’s latest circular economy proposal, presented on December 2, 2015, leaves room for more ambitious actions on bio-industries such as bioplastics, says European Bioplastics.
The proposal contains plans to tackle the challenge presented by the waste of energy and resources produced by the linear economy. The European Bioplastics association welcomes these efforts, and is looking forward to contributing to the forthcoming debate on how renewable and biodegradable materials can best fit into this vision.
In ‘Closing the loop – an EU action plan for the Circular Economy’ the Commission acknowledges that ‘bio-based materials present advantages due to their renewability, biodegradability and compostability’. “The proposal is an important step towards closing the carbon loop in Europe”, says François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics.
Yet closing the loop, whilst urgently necessary, should be complemented by measures to boost the bio-economy. Biodegradable plastics contribute to proper organic waste collection and bio-based plastics help to minimise greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, durable bioplastics in particular have the potential to sequester bio-based carbon. If mechanically recycled, this benefit of carbon sequestration can be sustained throughout many life cycles, making a significant contribution to a circular economy. The carbon loop, in which biobased and biodegradable materials play a key role, needs to be recognised and supported within the EU’s legislative framework.
For this reason, bioplastics should be part of any new legislation on revised waste targets, as they contribute to multiplying end-of-life options, such as mechanical recycling, organic recycling and waste-to-‘bio’-energy. Furthermore, the material properties of bioplastics should be recognised within the context of ecodesign measures, given the significant environmental benefits they offer.
The Commission’s proposal to amend the Waste Framework Directive falls short of fully recognising the advantages of organic waste collection for Europe. Organic waste accounts for the largest fraction (30-45 percent) in municipal waste. Yet, today, only 25 percent of the 90 million tonnes of bio-waste in Europe is collected separately and recycled by composting and anaerobic digestion. With the right waste legislation in place, an additional 60 million tonnes of bio-waste could be recycled, which would result in the creation of 30,000 new jobs.(1)
Economic potential of bioplastic materials
Bioplastics are a large family of innovative plastic materials that are either bio-based or biodegradable, or both. The global market for bioplastics is predicted to grow by more than 350 percent in the mid-term.(2) The latest market data by European Bioplastics shows that the global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from around 1.7 million tonnes in 2014 to approximately 7.8 million tonnes in 2019. Packaging remains the single largest field of application for bioplastics with almost 70 percent of the total bioplastics market. The data also reveals a significant increase in the uptake of bioplastics materials in many other sectors, including textiles, automotive, and consumer goods.
“Even though production will continue to grow steadily in the coming years, forecasts show that in 2019, more than 95 percent of bioplastics production capacities will be located outside of Europe. If EU Member States want to attract investment and jobs in this sector, they need to tackle the problem of limited economic and political support, which currently hampers the scale-up of production capacities and market penetration of bioplastic products in Europe. The right strategy and conditions are needed to reverse this trend and help to make full use of bioplastics’ environmental, economic and social potential in Europe”, says François de Bie.(KL)
(1) Data given by the European Compost Network (ECN) e.V. in a letter to the EU Commissioners Timmermans, Katainen, Vella and Canete, 19 November 2015.
(2) 2015 market data update of European Bioplastics in cooperation with IfBB – Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover, Germany) and nova-Institute (Hürth, Germany).