Waste management and bioplastics treatment
Waste management will be a key success factor of bioplastics in two different ways. On the one hand, for compostable plastic products it is crucial to have composting infrastructures in place. That’s the reason why European Bioplastics advocates for a separate collection of organic and residual waste and for installing composting sites across Europe. The association welcomes all political initiatives that support this goal as the latest announcement of German Environmental Ministry did. The ministry intends to draw up a national organic waste recycling strategy. This includes the question of whether organic waste should be dried, burnt, fermented or composted or whether it should be processed to create biofuels. The Federal Government has also started to introduce its organic waste strategy at the European level. In the EU, organic waste accounts for around 38 per cent of municipal waste. This amounts to around 120 million tonnes of organic waste per year, with the potential to obtain over 50 million tonnes of compost annually (in EU 25). One problem, however, is the European Landfill Directive. Though the directive includes several requirements to reduce the organic component of waste, it permits explicitly the burning, the treatment in a mechanical biological facility and the mixed composting of organic waste components, with the result that the waste can no longer be used for soil improvement. Like the EU parliament and the “biowaste coalition” (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Rumania and Germany) European Bioplastics supports the idea of a dedicated Organic Waste Directive that is unfortunately not yet on the agenda of the EU Commission.
On the other hand European Bioplastics is strongly supporting an adequate treatment of bioplastics given the quantities of the material. Organizing the most optimized waste management system is dependent on local infrastructures for collection and recycling, local and regional regulations, the total volume on the market available and the composition of waste streams. This is also a primary reason why conventional packaging is not always treated in the same way across the EU. Most countries have set up systems to recover and recycle post consumer plastic bottles. For most other packaging, the results are more fragmented and not always very well developed. In many cases, mixed fractions are being incinerated and by doing so, (fossil) energy is being recovered. Biopackaging that would end up in the mixed waste fraction for incineration with energy recovery will generate renewable energy instead.
With both bioplastics and biopackaging in their infancy, the development of the market should not be delayed even though the most optimal recovery systems have often not been recognised by local authorities. The risks associated with existing recovery schemes should be monitored. These will be limited at this time given the relatively small volumes that currently enter the market. Once volumes reach a critical mass, waste management systems which make most sense from an environmental and economic point of view can be set up. Over time, recycling may be the best option for certain bioplastics, especially if a homogenous stream can be organised such as in place for plastic bottles. German government acknowledged this considerations in the amendment process of the Packaging Ordinance by releasing bioplastic bottles from deposit obligation. The ordinance states that bottles with more than 75 percent RRM content will not be charged with a deposit fee. The privilege postpones the obligation of installing recovery systems to a point of time after market introduction.