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General FAQs

The European Bioplastics Association recently released their document 'Frequently asked questions on bioplastics'. Scroll through the FAQs below to discover answers to your questions. Missing an answer? Just contact us on pla@total-corbion.com and we'll answer your query as soon as possible.

What are bioplastics?
The European Bioplastics Association defines bioplastics as being biobased, biodegradable or both.

What are the advantages of bioplastic products?
Biobased plastics help reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources, which are expected to become significantly more expensive in the coming decades. Slowly depleted fossil resources are being gradually substituted with renewable resources. These renewable resources are currently predominantly annual crops (such as corn and sugar beet) or perennial cultures (such as cassava and sugar cane).

Biobased plastics also possess the unique potential to reduce GHG emissions or even be carbon neutral. Plants absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow. Using this biomass to create biobased plastic products constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation can be extended for a period of time if the material is recycled.

Another major benefit offered by biobased plastics is that they can 'close the cycle' and increase resource efficiency. This potential can be exploited most effectively by establishing 'use cascades', in which renewable resources are firstly used to produce materials and products prior to being used for energy recovery. This means either:

1) using renewable resources for bioplastic products, mechanically recycling these products several times and recovering their renewable energy at the end of their product life or
2) using renewable resources for bioplastic products, organically recycling them (composting) at the end of a product's life cycle (if certified accordingly) and creating valuable biomass/humus during the process. This resulting new product facilitates plant growth thus closing the cycle.

Bioplastics can increase resource efficiency to its (current) best potential.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

Are bioplastics edible?
Bioplastics are used in packaging, catering products, automotive parts, electronic consumer goods and have many more applications where conventional plastics are used. Neither conventional plastic nor bioplastic should be ingested. Bioplastics used in food and beverage packaging are approved for food contact, but are not suitable for human consumption.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

Bioplastics market

What are the main characteristics of the bioplastic market?
The current market is characterised by high growth of about 20-100 percent annually and strong diversification. Bioplastics today still represent well under one percent of the about 280 million tonnes of plastics produced worldwide annually (Plastics Europe). However, there are numerous internal and external factors within the industry further encouraging the growth in bioplastics.

Internal factors include:
• Advanced technical properties and functionality
• Potential for cost reduction through economies of scale
• New, cost-efficient recycling options for biodegradable products

External market factors include:
• High consumer acceptance
• Societal concerns about climate change
• Price increase of fossil resources
• Dependence on fossil resources

With a growing number of materials, applications and products, the number of manufacturers, converters and end users is increasing steadily. Significant financial investments have been made in production and marketing to guide and accompany this development. Bioplastics are a relevant and leading segment of the plastics industry.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

How large is the bioplastics market - current and future?
Bioplastics today still represent well under one percent of the about 280 million tonnes of plastics produced annually. In 2011 the global production capacity amounted to around 1.2 million tonnes. But demand is rising with more and more sophisticated bioplastic materials and products entering the

market. Big brand owners have introduced bioplastic packaging or biobased car elements for prominent brands.
By 2016, the production capacity is expected to grow fivefold to about 6 million tonnes.1


1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Are bioplastic products fully penetrating the plastics market?
Bioplastics are moving out of the niche and into the mass market. Although full market penetration is just beginning, bioplastic materials and products are multiplying continuously. Big brand owners including Danone, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Heinz, Tetra Pak and L'Occitane in the packaging market, or Ford, Mercedes, VW, Toyota in the automotive market have launched or integrated bioplastic products. With strong brand names driving the development, market penetration is gaining speed. 1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Can a sufficient supply of bioplastics be guaranteed?
Supply is well ensured to meet the growing demand in the short and medium term. However, it is difficult to make long-term forecasts due to the dynamic and innovative nature of the bioplastic market. A reliable legislative framework in the EU would be beneficial to further attracting investment and ensuring supply in the long run.

In recent years numerous joint ventures have been established. Planned investments in bioplastic production capacities have been made. Initial facilities producing various types of bioplastics are operating in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Additional facilities are currently being set up in different regions from Thailand to Italy to produce more bioplastics, including starch compounds, PLA, biobased PBS, PE or bio-PET. These investments and scale-ups are reflected in European Bioplastics' market data, which show growth in capacity from 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 to approximately 6 million tonnes in 2016.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Can fossil-based plastics be completelt subsituted by biobased bioplastics?
According to the PRO BIP study conducted by the University of Utrecht, bioplastics could technically substitute about 85 percent of conventional plastics, so this is not a realistic short- or mid-term development.

With a share of 1.2 million tonnes (2011) compared to 280 million tonnes total plastic production per year, bioplastics are still only beginning to penetrate the market. However, with increasing availability and a quickly expanding number of products in diverse market segments, bioplastics will become a significant part of the plastics market in the long run.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

What are the economic advantages of bioplastics?
As an important part of the bioeconomy, bioplastics are a future lead market for the European Union, offering job creation, development of rural areas and global export opportunities for innovative technologies. The European bioeconomy sectors are worth 2 trillion euros in annual turnover and account for 22 million jobs in the EU. That is approx. 9 percent of the EU's workforce.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

How are costs for bioplastics developing?
The cost of research and development still makes up for a share of investment in bioplastics and has an impact on material and product prices.

However, prices have continuously been decreasing over the last decade. With rising demand, increasing volumes of bioplastics on the market and rising oil-prices, the costs for bioplastics will be comparable with those for conventional plastic prices.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Where are bioplastics applied?
Fields of application for bioplastic materials and products are increasing steadily. Bioplastics today are primarily found in the following market segments:


- Packaging
- Food services
- Agriculture/horticulture
- Consumer electronics
- Automotive
- Consumer goods and household appliances

Currently, packaging is the leading market segment. However, automotive and consumer electronics are continuously coming up with new bioplastic applications. Furthermore, bioplastics will become broadly visible in the sports equipment and toys sectors and first applications are appearing in the construction industry (floor panelling, plugs or insulating material).1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Are bioplastics applied in mainly short-lived products?
No. Bioplastics have a multitude of short-lived and durable applications. The term bioplastics covers a family of materials with a wide range of differing properties. Biobased or partially biobased commodity plastics such as PE or PET are used for durable applications including car dashboards and mobile phone covers. Technical biopolymers like polyamides are used in machinery, automotive and sports equipment.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

Which retailers and brandowners are using bioplastics?
The number of brand owners that apply bioplastics in their solutions is increasing steadily. Prominent examples of big brands that have introduced bioplastic packaging are Danone (Actimel, Activia, Volvic) and Coca-Cola (PlantBottle). The supermarket chains Carrefour, Sainsbury, Billa, Spar and Hofer offer different packaging products and/or shopping bags made of bioplastics. In the leisure/sport sector PUMA, for example, uses bioplastics, and in the automotive market, Ford, Toyota and Mercedes have found various applications for bioplastic components in different car models. In the consumer electronics market, Fujitsu has found its first applications for bioplastics.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/

How accepted are bioplastic products by consumers?
About 80 percent of European consumers want to buy products which have a minimal impact on the environment (eurobarometer survey EC 2013). What is more, according to the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) and the Straubing Center of Science (2009), consumers want to see more products made from bioplastics on the market. However, consumers are usually not very well informed about bioplastics posing a challenge when it comes to bioplastics penetrating the consumer market. Nonetheless, these hurdles are not insurmountable. Growing brand recall and corresponding information campaigns are contributing towards more consumers' awareness and an overall tendency to purchase these products.

The demand for low carbon goods - one of the major benefits of bioplastics - is steadily rising. The global market for low carbon environmental goods and services is estimated at 4.2 trillion euros with the market share for EU companies amounting to 21 percent (UK Department for Business, Innovations and Skills, 2012).1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/market-development/consumer-behaviour/

 

Material, properties and technology

What are bioplastics made of?
Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another.

Bioplastics in general are partially or completely based on natural resources. The biomass used for biobased plastics today comes mostly from grain (corn), sugar cane, potatoes or castor oil. Other natural resources, such as cellulose and crop residues (corn stover, straw) will grow more important in the future.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/technologymaterials/

What types of bioplastics do exist and what properties do they have?
Bioplastics are not a single kind of plastic, but rather a family of materials that vary considerably from one another. There are three groups in the bioplastics family, each with its own individual characteristics. These include:
- Biobased or partially biobased (nonbiodegradable) commodity plastics such as PE, PET, or PP (polyolefins, drop-in solutions) and biobased engineering plastics such as PTT, or TPC-ET
- New biobased and biodegradable plastics, including PLA and PHA
- New biodegradable plastics that are currently based on fossil resources such as PBAT and PCL.

Materials of the first group are biobased and non-biodegradable. They are used for a large variety of durable applications (from packaging to automotives).
Materials of the other two groups are biodegradable and - under particular conditions - compostable. This means they provide an extra benefit to particular applications such as packaging films or biowaste bags.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/technologymaterials/materials/

Is there a certain percentage threshold value that marks the minimal biobased carbon content / biobased mass content in a product/material?
There is no common agreement on a minimal value yet due to varying regional regulations. In Japan an industry-wide commitment is in place which sets the 'biomass margin' at '25 percent renewable material'. According to the USDA bio-preferred programme's very broad margin, 'the minimum share of renewable material ranges from 7 to 95 percent' depending on defined product category rules.

Although there is no minimum value, clear labelling options are available. The certifiers, Vinçotte and DIN CERTCO, offer a stepwise labelling approach based on CEN/TS 16137 (or ASTM D 6866) which displays the biobased carbon content of a material or product.

Figure: Labels depicting a bioplastic product's biobased share.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/

Are the properties of bioplastics equal to those of conventional plastics?
Today, there is a bioplastic alternative to almost every conventional plastic. Bioplastics currently have the same properties as conventional plastics (e.g. thermoplastics) and often offer additional advantages, such as compostability, natural breathability etc.


Bioplastics are also being improved continuously with increased heat resistance, enhanced moisture barriers, greater stiffness and flexibility or improved durability.

Bioplastics are available in a wide variety of types and compounds that can be converted on the standard equipment generally used for processing conventional plastics.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/technologymaterials/

DIN CERTCO certification labelsDIN CERTCO certification labels

Vinçotte certification labelsVinçotte certification labels

Sourcing of feedstock

Why does the bioplastics industry use agricultural resources?
The emerging shift from crude oil towards renewable resources is driven primarily by the sustainable development efforts of the plastics industry. Finite oil resources and climate change constitute two broadly acknowledged challenges for society in the coming decades. Reducing oil dependency and mitigation of climate change are therefore two important drivers for the use of renewable resources.


Plants absorb carbon dioxide during their growth and convert it into carbonrich organic matter. When these materials are used in the production of bioplastics the carbon is stored within the products during their useful life. This carbon is then released back into the atmosphere e.g. through energy recovery or composting.

Important forces driving the trend towards the use of renewable resources are the development of rural economies, innovation in the chemical and plastics industry, regulatory and policy framework conditions and consumer demand. Retailers and brand owners are also important drivers behind this trend, as they constantly seek to improve the environmental performance of their product portfolios.1

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/

 

How much agricultural area is used for bioplastics?

See also 'Raw material sources'

In 2011 the global production capacities for bioplastics amounted to around 1.2 million tonnes. This translates into approximately 300,000 hectares of land.

The surface area required to grow sufficient feedstock for today's bioplastic production is therefore less than 0.006 percent of the global agricultural area of 5 billion hectares.1 This ratio correlates to the size of an average cherry tomato next to the Eiffel Tower (based on land use data by EuBP/IfBB, 2013).

Assuming continued high and maybe even politically supported growth in the bioplastics market, at the current stage of technological development a market of up to 6 million tonnes accounting for about 1.1 million hectares could be achieved by the year 2016, which equates to approximately roughly 0.022 percent of the global agricultural area.

There are also many opportunities including using an increased share of food residues, non-food crops or cellulosic biomass that could lead to even less land use demand for bioplastics than the amount given above.2

Download European Bioplastics 'Facts & Figures' booklet

1 Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover).
2 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/land-use/   http://en.european-bioplastics.org/download/labelling/EuBP_Land_use_2013.jpg

Is there competition between food, feed and bioplastics regarding agricultural area?
The global agricultural area and the way it is used shows that 0.006 percent used to grow feedstock for bioplastics come nowhere near the 98 percent used for pastures and growing food and feed.


Of the 13.4 billion hectares of global land surface, around 37 percent (5 billion hectares) is currently used for agriculture. This includes pastures (70 percent, approx. 3.5 billion hectares) and arable land (30 percent, approx. 1.4 billion hectares). This 30 percent of arable land is further divided into areas predominantly used for growing food crops and feed (27 percent, approx. 1.29 billion hectares), as well as crops for materials (2 percent, approx. 100 million hectares, including the 300,000 hectares used for bioplastics)1, and crops for biofuels (1 percent, approx. 55 million hectares).2

1
 The 2 percent comprise e.g. natural fibres (primarily cotton), rubber, bamboo, plant oils, sugar and starch. Of these 100 million hectares only 300.000 hectares are used to grow feedstock for bioplastics (primarily sugar and starch).

2 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/land-use/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/download/labelling/EuBP_Land_use_2013.jpg

Is the current use of food crops ethically justifiable?
According to the FAO, about one third of global food production is either wasted or lost every year. European Bioplastics acknowledges that this is a serious problem and strongly supports the food industry's efforts to reduce food waste as a key element in fighting world hunger.

The main deficiencies that need to be addressed are:
- logistical aspects such as poor distribution/storage of food/feed,
- political instability, and
- lack of financial resources.

When it comes to using biomass there is no competition between food/feed and bioplastics. Only 0.006 percent of the global agricultural area is used to grow feedstock for bioplastics, compared to 98 percent used for food, feed and pastures.

Food crops such as corn or sugar cane are currently the most productive and resilient feedstock available. Other solutions (non-food crops or waste from food crops) will be available in the medium and long term with second and third generation feedstock under development.

There is no well-founded argument against a responsible and monitored (i.e. sustainable) use of food crops for bioplastics. Independent third party certification schemes can help to take social, environmental and economic criteria into account and to ensure that bioplastics are a purely beneficial innovation.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/download/labelling/EuBP_Land_use_2013.jpg

Will there be sufficient agricultural area in the world to sustain production of food, feed, fuel and bioplastics?
1Renewable resources are a replenishing but limited resource. However, there are various ways to ensure a sufficient supply to the industry with renewable resources for the production of biobased plastics.

These include:
1. Broadening the base of feedstock: The bioplastics industry is currently working mostly with carbohydrate rich plants (sugarcane, corn, etc). Several projects, however, are looking into using plant residues or cellulose as second-generation feedstock (non-food crops).
2. Increasing yields: Increasing the efficiency of industrial conversion of raw materials into feedstock, for example by using optimised yeasts or bacteria and optimised physical and chemical processes would increase the total availability of resources.
3. Taking fallow land into production: There is still plenty of arable land in various geographical regions available for production, even in the European Union (mostly in the eastern member states).2

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/land-use/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/download/labelling/EuBP_Land_use_2013.jpg

2 Different sources come up with varying figures for "free" arable land, the French National Institute For Agricultural Research gives 2.6 billion hectares of untapped potential (article in ParisTech, 2011), the nova-Institute calculates 570 million hectares based on figures of OECD and FAO (2009). The bottom line - there is an ample amount of unused land available.

Is the use of non-food crops feasible?
Yes, in the future it will be and needs to be for production to remain efficient. However, bioplastics today are predominantly produced from carbohydrate rich crops i.e. food crops.


The bioplastics industry is putting significant effort into research and development to diversify the availability of biogenic feedstock of non-food crops. The industry aims to further develop fermentation technologies that enable the utilisation of other biogenic input based on non-food crop sources in the medium and long term. The production of cellulosic sugars and ethanols in particular are regarded as a promising technological approach.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/

Are GMO crops used for bioplastics?
The use of GM crops is not a technical requirement for the manufacturing of any bioplastic commercially available today. If GM crops are used, the reasons lie in the economic or regional feedstock supply situation. If GM crops are used in bioplastic production, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer removes all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastic product contains no genetic traces. The resulting bioplastic is therefore well suited to use in food packaging as it contains no genetically modified material and cannot interact with the contents.1

Note from Corbion Purac: 'Corbion Purac offers Lactide monomers based on GMO free feedstocks for those brandowners and converters who may require this.'

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/

How can the industry support the supply of sustainable feedstock?
Sustainable sourcing of feedstock is a prerequisite for more sustainable products.That is why European Bioplastics supports:

1) the general sparing use of resources and increase of resource efficiency (e.g. through use cascades),
2) the implementation of good agricultural practice,
3) corresponding third-party certification, and
4) a responsible choice of feedstock: The use of food residues or byproducts of (food) crops can contribute to more sustainable sourcing. In addition, the biorefinery concept is promising in transforming cellulosic,non-food biomass feedstock into a variety of chemicals, e.g. ethanol, lactic acid, or many others, which can also be used to manufacture bioplastics.1

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/sustainable-sourcing/

Human health

Can GMO feedstock be used for the production of bioplastics, e.g. for the packaging sector, and does it have an impact on human health?
If GM crops are used, the multiple-stage processing and high heat used to create the polymer remove all traces of genetic material. This means that the final bioplastic product contains no traces of GMO. Should the bioplastic be used for e.g. food packaging, this packaging will be well suited for the purpose, and no GMO will interact with the contents.
1

Note from Corbion Purac: 'Corbion Purac offers Lactide monomers based on GMO free feedstocks for those brandowners and converters who may require this.'

Is Bisphenol A used in bioplastics?
European Bioplastics and its members are committed to avoiding the use of harmful substances in their products. Many plastic products do not use any plasticisers and a range of acceptable plasticisers is available if necessary. The wide range of bioplastics is based on thousands of different formulas. This means specific information regarding a certain material or product can only be obtained from the individual manufacturer, converter or brand owner using the material.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

End-of-life

Can bioplastics be integrated into established recycling and recovery schemes?
Bioplastics are a diverse family of materials and depending on the material/application existing waste streams are an option. Drop-in solutions, such as bio-PE or partly biobased PET, can be recycled in existing streams. Biodegradable plastic products that have been certified compostable according to EN 13432 are suitable for industrial composting. All bioplastic materials offer (renewable) energy recovery as they contain a high energy value.
1

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/

Can bioplastics be mechanically recycled?
If a separate recycling stream for a certain plastic/bioplastic type exists, the bioplastic can be easily recycled alongside its conventional counterparts (e.g. biobased PE in the PE-stream or biobased PET in the PET stream). The post consumer recycling of bioplastics for which no separate stream yet exists, will be feasible, as soon as the commercial volumes and sales increase sufficiently to cover the investments required. New separate streams (e.g. for PLA) will be introduced in the short to medium term. Numerous research projects and tests e.g. for PLA are currently underway in Germany (Re-PLA Cycle), in Belgium (r-PLA) and the USA.
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1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/

Do bioplastics 'contaminate' mechanical recylcing waste streams?
As with conventional plastics, bioplastics need to be recycled separately (by stream type). Bioplastic types for which a recycling stream already exists (e.g. biobased PE / biobased PET) can be easily recycled together with their conventional counterparts (PE and PET).


Other bioplastics, for which no separate streams yet exist, are very unlikely to end up in mechanical recycling streams due to sophisticated sorting and treatment procedures (positive selection).1

What is meant by organic recycling?
Organic recycling is defined by the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (amended in 2005/20/EC) as the

- aerobic treatment (composting) or
- anaerobic treatment (biogasification) of packaging waste.

The EU Directive refers to the harmonised European standards for the industrial compostability of plastic packaging, EN 13432. An equivalent standard has been approved by the European standardisation organisation CEN for the testing of compostability of plastics, EN 14995.

The effective organic recycling of biodegradable packaging would require the separate collection of biodegradable waste and legal access for certified compostable products to enter the respective systems.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Home_Composting.pdf

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/

How does composting (aerobic treatment) of bioplastics work?
Bioplastic materials or products that have been certified compostable' according to EN 13432 or EN 14995 fulfil the technical criteria in industrial composting plants. These plants provide controlled conditions (humidity, aeration, temperature) for quick and safe compost production.


During the process the organic matter including biodegradable and compostable plastic products is converted to carbondioxide, water and biomass.

Compost is used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilisers. However, biodegradable and compostable plastics only play a minor role in the biowaste stream.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Home_Composting.pdf

Are all bioplastic materials/products biodegradable?
No. Bioplastics can be biobased, biodegradable or both. Biodegradability is an inherent property in certain materials that can benefit specific applications (e.g. biowaste bags).


Biodegradable/compostable products should feature a clear recommendation regarding the suitable end-of-life for this product. European Bioplastics advocates the certification of biodegradable products meant for industrial composting according to EN 13432 in order to substantiate claims made.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/technologymaterials/materials/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/market/applications/

What is the difference between 'biodegradable' and 'compostable'?
Biodegradation is a chemical process in which materials degrade back into water, carbondioxide and biomass with the help of microorganisms. The process of biodegradation depends on the environmental conditions which influence it (e.g. location, temperature, humidity, etc.) and on the material or application itself. Consequently, the process and its outcome can vary considerably.


In order to be recovered by means of organic recycling (composting)4 a material or product needs to be biodegradable. Compostability is a characteristic of a product, packaging or associated component that allows it to biodegrade under specific conditions (e.g. a certain temperature, timeframe, etc). These specific conditions are described in standards, such as the European standard on industrial composting EN 13432. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.

Please note that in order to make accurate and specific claims about compostability the location (home, industrial) and timeframe need to be specified.1

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/technologymaterials/properties/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/standardization/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Home_Composting.pdf

What are the required circumstances for a compostable product to compost?
Industrial composting is an established process with commonly agreed requirements concerning temperature and timeframe for transforming biodegradable waste into stable, sanitised products to be used in agriculture. This process takes place in industrial or municipal composting plants. The criteria for the industrial compostability of packaging are set out in EN 13432. Materials and products complying with this standard can be certified and labelled accordingly.


There is currently no common European standard for home composting. Regulations, national standards, or certification programmes can be found in Italy (UNI 11183), Belgium (Vinçotte, OK compost home label) and the United Kingdom (European Bioplastics).1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/certification/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Home_Composting.pdf

What are the advantages of biodegradable/compostable bioplastic products?
Using biodegradable and compostable plastic products such as (biowaste) bags and packaging or cutlery increases end-of-life options. In addition to recovering energy and mechanical recycling, composting (organic recovery / organic recycling) becomes an available waste management option.


This appears to be of particular benefit when plastic items are mixed with biowaste. Under these conditions, mechanical recycling is not feasible for either plastics or biowaste. The use of compostable plastics makes the mixed waste suitable for organic recycling, enabling the shift from recovery to recycling (a treatment option which is higher in the European waste hierarchy). An increased amount of biowaste is collected and then used to create valuable compost.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf

Do (industrially) compostable plastics decrease the quality of the compost?
A product must fulfil all the requirements according to EN 13432 in order for it to be treated in an average industrial composting plant with a 12-week composting cycle. All product components are tested (inks, glues, etc.). This includes an eco-toxicity test, during which the resulting compost's effect on plant growth is examined (agronomic test).


Very short composting cycles may not be sufficient to enable a full disintegration. However, leftover scraps (usually lignocellulosics) in composting plants are sifted out and added to the next fresh compost batch where they fully disintegrate and biodegrade into water, carbon and biomass. The same is expected of plastic residues in case of incomplete disintegration during the first cycle.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf

What is the difference between oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable plastics?
The underlying technology of oxo-degradability or oxo-fragmentation is based on special additives, which are purported to accelerate the fragmentation of the film products if incorporated into standard resins. The resulting fragments remain in the environment.


Biodegradability is an inherent characteristic of a material or product. In contrast to oxo-fragmentation, biodegradation results from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. The process produces water, carbon and biomass as end products.

Oxo-fragmentable materials cannot biodegrade as defined in industry accepted standard specifications such as ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, ASTM, D7081 or EN 13432.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/pp/Oxo_PositionsPaper.pdf

How can one distinguish oxo-fragmentable from biodegradable plastics?
Through corresponding specification and labelling. European Bioplastics advocates being as specific as possible when claiming biodegradability. For example, claiming industrial compostability according to EN 13432 is a clear and specific option. Corresponding certification and the 'Seedling' label substantiate the claim. The Seedling also clarifies the distinction between oxo-fragmentable and biodegradable - certified according to EN 13432 materials.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/labelling/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Industrial_Composting.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Home_Composting.pdf

Is biodegradation a solution for the littering problem?

A product should be designed with an efficient recovery solution. In the case of biodegradable plastic items, the preferable recovery solution is collection with biowaste, organic recycling (e.g. composting) and the creation of compost (a type of humus which is beneficial for soil fertility).

Designing a product 'for littering of any kind' would mean encouraging the misuse of disposal, which is unfortunately widespread. Consequently, biodegradability does not constitute a permit to litter.

However, the issue of pollution, especially marine pollution, is taken very seriously by the bioplastics industry; research is actively being conducted to provide further factual information in the immediate future.1

Generally, when advertising products as biodegradable, a clear message should be communicated to consumers, who often misunderstand this property. A clear recommendation on product recovery is therefore important.2

1
  According to UNEP (2005), figures estimate a total of around 20 million metric tonnes of plastic from both land and sea sources, with land sources (such as open landfills) making up 80 percent of the total figure.

2 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/littering/

How do bioplastics behave in landfills? Do they release methane gas?
Studies have proven that there is little risk posed by biodegradation of biodegradable plastics in landfills (Kolstad, Vink, De Wilde, Debeer: Assessment of anaerobic degradation of Ingeo® polylactides under accelerated landfill conditions, 2012). Most bioplastics remain inert in landfills, where they potentially sequester carbon.


Landfilling remains a widely applied method of waste treatment in Europe. Forty-two percent of all post consumer plastics waste in Europe is buried in landfills and neither the material value nor the energy content of the plastic material is utilised. However, landfilling is an expiring technology and European Bioplastics supports all alternative measures to strengthen the recycling and recovery of plastics. There are better methods for dealing with plastic waste which should be broadly applied.

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/fs/FactSheet_Energy_Recovery.pdf

What is the recommended end-of-life option for bioplastics?
As with conventional plastics, this depends entirely on the application and the available infrastructure in the region where the product is to be recovered.


Bioplastics are a large family of materials with widely varying properties. The particular end-of-life solution depends on the bioplastic and the application it was chosen for. Apart from all the waste streams suitable for conventional plastics, some certified biobased and biodegradable bioplastic products can also be composted.

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/recovery-options/

Sustainability

Are biobased plastics more sustainable than conventional plastics?
Biobased plastics have clear advantages over conventional plastics. They provide the same and in some cases better performance while also being based on renewable resources. Thus, the plastics industry will be able to move away from finite fossil resources in the future and take its place in the bioeconomy. Saving fossil resources and reducing GHG emissions are two inherent advantages that biobased plastics offer in contrast to conventional plastics. With use cascades biobased plastics can also contribute towards 'closing the loop' of a product thus helping to increase resource efficiency immensely.


Bioplastics are either more sustainable than conventional plastics or have the potential to be so. According to a study by the German Environment Agency "bioplastics are at least as good as conventional plastics". The study also mentions that "considerable potential is as yet untapped" (ifeu/GEA, 2012).1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/

Do bioplastics have a lower carbon footprint than fossil-based plastics? How is this measured?
Biobased plastics have the unique potential over conventional plastics of reducing GHG emissions or even being carbon neutral. Plant growth absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using this biomass to create biobased plastic products constitutes a temporary removal of greenhouse gases (CO
2) from the atmosphere. This carbon fixation (carbon sink) can be extended over a period of time if the material is recycled.

The carbon footprint of a product (CFP) can be measured by carbon footprinting or the life cycle assessment (LCA, standard ISO 14044). More information on how a carbon footprint should be established will be set out in the forthcoming ISO 14067 standard entitled the "Carbon Footprint of Products" expected in 2013.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

Communication recommendation 'carbon neutrality':
'Carbon neutral' claims can be made for bioplastic materials in some cases, but rarely for end products. For example, ISO 14021 demands that a product's complete life cycle be taken into account when making claims about its carbon balance. The pure material from which a product is made (cradle to gate life cycle section) can be advertised in a B2B context with a neutral claim if sound data backs it up. When the material is then converted and disposed of at the end of its life (whole life cycle), in most cases neutrality cannot be claimed. A reduced carbon emissions claim would then be appropriate.
1

1
 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/pp/LCA_PositionsPaper.pdf

How can the environmental impacts of bioplastics be assessed?
There are ongoing discussions about what form a fair and commonly accepted environmental impact assessment of bioplastics (or for that matter other bio-products) could take.

European Bioplastics advocates the sustainability assessment of biobased plastics taking into account the most relevant key indicators - ecological, economic and social.

Biobased plastics can potentially reduce dependency on fossil resources and greenhouse gases (GHG), increase resource efficiency and produce renewable energy. They support the bioeconomy by creating jobs within the EU and pose less risk to health and safety. Compared to conventional plastics, the production of bioplastics is still in its infancy and the potential for further improvement is enormous.

Sustainability assessment schemes should be voluntary, clearly defined and in line with existing regulations while not overburdening the industry (especially SMEs).

Recommended criteria should include the determination of a material or product's biobased carbon content or biobased mass content; information displaying emitted GHG; information on the sustainability of the renewable materials used; and possible economic and social impacts (e.g. job creation).1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/pp/LCA_PositionsPaper.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

Can bioplastic applications be compared to conventional plastics?
Comparing two different products is difficult as the corresponding assessment tools are limited. The CFP of two products can be compared, but comparing two different LCAs may have limited significance (different impact categories, interpretation, organisations, etc.). A sound comparison based on LCA can best be made for one product when switching from fossil to biobased plastics as a form of before and after assessment. This comparison will clearly show where the biobased solution is advantageous as long as it is procured by the same institution integrating the same impact categories.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/environment/lcelca/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/pp/LCA_PositionsPaper.pdf
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

Standardisation, certification, labelling

What are the relevant standards for bioplastics?
CEN / TS 16137 1 is a testing standard that defines how the biobased carbon content in a material or product is measured.

EN 13432 2 and EN 14995 are the European norms for industrial compostability.

ISO 14040 - Life Cycle Assessment - focuses on describing the principles and framework of life cycle assessments.

ISO 14067 - Carbon Footprint of Products - is currently being developed and should be available by 2013. Aside from providing detailed information on how to measure and report on the carbon footprint of products (CFPs), it also gives some general guidelines on how to use carbon footprint claims correctly. This standard is heavily reliant on the ISO 14021 and ISO 14040 standards.

ISO 14020 series: The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) issued the ISO 14020 series on "environmental labels and declaration" in 1999. This series provides the main international guidelines to relevant "green claims" publications. The standard promotes three different types of environmental labels and declarations:
- Type I environmental labelling (14024),
- Type II self-declared environmental claims (14021),
- Type III environmental declaration (14025).3

1
 US-equivalent = ASTM 6866.
2 US-equivalent = ASTM 6400
3 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

How do standard, certification and label work together?
A standard is the basis for a certification scheme. It clearly defines the criteria and the testing procedures for the material or product. Once the certifier confirms compliance with the defined requirements, the respective product can be labelled with the corresponding logo.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/

Which institutions are involved in the cerftification of bioplastics?
Certification of biodegradable/compostable products is available from DIN

CERTCO (Germany) or one of its co-operating institutes such as AfOR (UK),
COBRO (Poland) and Vinçotte (Belgium). They link EN 13432 and EN 14995
to the 'Seedling' compostability label.

Biobased certification based on CEN/TS 16137 is available from:
- DIN CERTCO (Germany)
- Vinçotte (Belgium)1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/certification/

Which labels for bioplastic products do exist?
Industrially compostable plastic materials or products certified according to EN 13432 / 14995 are allowed to carry the Seedling compostability label. This brand is owned by European Bioplastics. The independent certifiers DIN CERTCO (Germany) and Vinçotte (Belgium) carry out this certification process. An alternative is the 'OK compost' label issued by Vinçotte. It is based on the same standards.

The certifiers DIN CERTCO (Germany) and Vinçotte (Belgium) have also introduced labels showing the biobased carbon content of bioplastics. The measuring of the biobased carbon content is based on CEN/TS 16137.1

The EuBP-Seedling and a biobased label by DIN CERTCOThe EuBP-Seedling and a biobased label by DIN CERTCO

 1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:

http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/labelling/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

What are the advantages of labels marking biobased property or compostability of bioplastics?
A label awarded in accordance with independent certification based on acknowledged standards guarantees that the product fulfils the criteria claimed. As bioplastics cannot be distinguished from conventional plastics by non-experts, reliable labelling helps the consumer to identify these products. It also informs the consumer of particular additional qualities the material /product possesses. Another advantage provided by compostability labels in particular is that they facilitate correct waste separation, collection and recovery.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/standards/labelling/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

How are environmental claims of bioplastic products soundly communicated?
Environmental claims of bioplastic products should be specific, accurate, relevant and truthful. Furthermore, there should be independent third party substantiation for these claims.


European Bioplastics has published a detailed guide regarding environmental communication.1

The brochure can be downloaded on the EuBP website: http://en.european-bioplastics.org/ecg-4/

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.

Political framework

What regulatory framework is there for bioplastics on national/EU level in the EU?
In contrast to the areas of biofuels and renewable energies, there is currently no EU-wide framework for action to support the material use of renewable raw materials. The development of an integrated concept to coordinate both the material and the energetic use of renewable resources should be the highest priority. Intelligent use cascades must therefore be developed to promote the most efficient use of resources. Use cascades add to economic and ecological value creation of products. Europe will have difficulty in competing globally without sufficient economic and technological value creation.
1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics.
For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/policy/

What policies would be necessary to pave the wat for a full-scale market introduction?
In representing the whole value chain of the bioplastics industry, ranging from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers and converters and leading brand owners to waste management companies, European Bioplastics has identified the key constraints and issues at a political and regulatory level that need to be addressed to ensure that bioplastics fulfil their potential in Europe.


These key issues are:
1) Access to materials:
- Guaranteeing the access of the European industry to competitively priced agricultural feedstock and biomass in sufficient quantities and quality.
- Establishing a level playing field for industrial use of biomass with an integrated EU policy approach for material and energetic use of biomass and feedstock.

2) Financial and political support/endorsement
- Clear political commitment and support for bioplastics would provide many other benefits to the European population (economic, social and environmental). Governments and policy-makers should encourage a market shift towards biobased products in order to support and stimulate the industry within Europe. This could involve incentivisation of bio-based materials or industries and other policy tools for example.

3) Consumer awareness-raising and education
- Governments and the EU should clearly and simply communicate what the bio-based economy would mean to consumers and citizens in practical terms by supporting its development and raising aware ness about the potential in bioplastics.
- Consumers need to be properly informed about what bioplastics could mean to them in their daily lives in real and practical terms together with the importance of initiating the shift to a low-carbon economy in Europe.1

1 Answer taken from 'Frequently Asked Questions on Bioplastics', Aug 2013, European Bioplastics. For more information:
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/policy/
http://en.european-bioplastics.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/publications/Policies_bioplastics2012.pdf