Are compostable plastics an asset for the circular economy?

FEAD which is the representative body of the private waste management and resource industry in the European Union has published a guide on the impact of compostable plastics on waste management.

While reminding the definitions of the terms biobased, biodegradable and compostable, the federation lists the problems connecting, according to them, to the use of compostable plastics. From FEAD’s conclusions, regulation by standards is indeed lacking and does not guarantee optimum environmental performances.

Furthermore, the distinction between compostable plastics and conventional plastics is not always clear so as the sorting can be wrongly done and disturb the existing streams. As a matter of fact, as they don’t have the same properties, they can affect the quality of recycled plastics.
Even if the sorting is properly done, they will be sorting out when they arrive at the composting plant and thus incinerated or buried with a negative carbon footprint.

The perception of the term “biodegradable” by consumers may also risk to cause confusion and bad behavior. Indeed, biodegradable materials are often seen as able to be abandoned in the nature without being harmful, which is not the case.

Finally, FEAD claims that biodegradable and compostable plastics are not beneficial to the circular economy because they are not used again for the production of new products. They are incinerated or biodegraded into water and CO2, and leave then the “loop”.

compostable plastics

For its part, the European Bioplastics Association (EUBP) did not lose time to react to these statements by insinuating that the federation is “anti-bioplastics and did not take conscience of the compostable plastics’ role for a circular economy.”

The association mentions as well that, contrary to the claims of the FEAD, there is a regulation on the term biodegradable. Likewise, a set of standards for biodegradation (NF T51-800) and compostability (EN 13432) is already in place at different level (national, European, etc…).

In addition to that, the percentage of biodegradable plastics that ends up in the mechanical recycling stream is low (around 0.3%). They only represent a minor risk of contamination because they are easily sorted out from the materials regularly recycled (PET, HDPE and PP).

The use of biodegradable/compostable plastics can thus help to sort our waste, notably the biowaste collect and so reduce the contamination by non-biodegradable plastics.

It is finally important to remind that the main environmental advantage to the use of biobased and biodegradable plastics stands in their production process at least partially from biomass. Biodegradation is thus rather highlighted when it fits with the use or the end of life of the product.

About us: NaturePlast is a french company based in Normandy (IFS-14), specialized in bioplastics. With more than 10 years of experience in this field, the company has the most extensive portfolio of raw materials and biobased and/or biodegradable compounds in Europe. With its daughter company BiopolyNov, they provide support to industrialists from the origin to the industrialisation of their innovative project. Thanks to their R&D expertise acquired during the years, NaturePlast and BiopolyNov are renowned major player in the development and production of formulations for clients and collaborative projects.