December 22, 2020
This week the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA) published a report, entitled “Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment”. The scientific opinion informs the European Commission’s forthcoming policy framework on plastics.
The opinion published in December 2020 recommends limiting the use of biodegradable plastics in the open environment to specific applications for which reduction, reuse, and recycling are not feasible, rather than as a solution for inappropriate waste management or littering. To realise the potential environmental benefits over conventional plastics, it recommends supporting the development of coherent testing and certification standards. It also identifies a need to promote the supply of accurate information on the properties, appropriate use and disposal, and limitations of biodegradable plastics and their applications to relevant user groups.
The scientific opinion was commissioned in 2019 and asked the question: “Can biodegradable plastics help reduce plastic pollution?”
This scientific opinion examines the conditions and criteria under which biodegradable plastic applications can be beneficial for the environment, and provides advice to inform decisions by society, consumers, businesses and policy makers. A growing global use of plastics has led to an increased amount of plastic waste in the environment, polluting and harming land and marine ecosystems. Biodegradable plastics could be part of the solution to this problem, but they also present challenges. Biodegradability depends not only on the properties of the plastic material itself, but also on the environmental conditions. Many biodegradable plastic products only actually biodegrade in certain specific environments, or only in industrial composting facilities, rather than in the open environment more generally.
Nicole Grobert, Chair of the GCSA and Professor of Nanomaterials at the University of Oxford commented on the said: “The biodegradation of plastics is a complex process that depends on both the material itself and the conditions of the environment in which it takes place. Assessing which specific biodegradable plastic applications can offer environmental benefits requires careful consideration of both these factors and the behaviour of users.”
In their December newsletter, Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics (EUBP) said: “We are pleased to see that this report clearly identifies several beneficial application areas for biodegradable plastics even though this was not its original focus”. Adding: “We also welcome the call for economic incentives to promote appropriate disposal behaviour as well as the need for further research that it highlights”.
Categories : World Focus