On September 7, 2020, the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a briefing that discusses the challenges and opportunities of biodegradable and compostable plastics. The article introduces the definitions and implications of using plastics that are bio-based, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, and compostable. It also provides an overview of the current certifications and reference standards for compostability and biodegradability depending on various environmental conditions. Referenced studies in the briefing have shown that the multitude of labels that exist are difficult for consumers to understand, who are often surprised to learn that a bio-based plastic is not necessarily compostable or biodegradable. Different requirements for industrial versus home composting were also found to be confusing. While these plastics are seen to have potential environmental benefits in specific applications, the EEA identified that “biodegradable, compostable and bio-based plastics need clearer labelling and repeated awareness-raising campaigns targeting users to ensure their correct disposal and treatment.”

In a press release responding to the EEA briefing, industry association European Bioplastics called for “the need to acknowledge successful precedents in the deployment of these innovative materials in collaboration with a receptive community of consumers.” It argues that “unfortunately, several media outlets made use of a biased interpretation of the report to draw a distorted picture of biodegradable and compostable plastics” and “calls on all relevant stakeholders to have a constructive dialogue over biodegradable and compostable plastics that is science rather than ideology based.”

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EEA (September 7, 2020). “Biodegradable and compostable plastics — challenges and opportunities.”

EEA (September 9, 2020). “European Bioplastics criticises biased interpretation of EEA study on biodegradable and compostable plastics: consumers do understand value and proper end-of-life of compostable plastics.”