On November 29-30, 2016 the industry association European Bioplastics (EUBP) held its 11th annual conference in Berlin, Germany (FPF reported). The conference convened under the theme “Rethinking plastics” and the program featured presentations from regulators, brand owners, chemical manufacturers, bioplastic resin producers and product developers, environmental institutions, composting and recycling experts, as well as academic researchers.

The morning sessions of the first day dealt with EU bioplastics policy, as well as with the experiences of different brands in incorporating bioplastics into their products. Hugo-Maria Schally from the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Environment (DG Environment) declared that rethinking plastics means rethinking the economy, whereby linear plastic is ‘out’ and circular plastic is ‘in’ with regard to achieving the goals of the circular economy. Bio-based plastics present great opportunities in moving away from non-renewable resources. Hence, the EU Circular Economy Package (FPF reported) shall provide the policy, legislative framework, and incentives to support innovative industries like bioplastics. Schally further announced that the EU roadmap for the Plastics Strategy in the circular economy will be published in a few weeks. Waldemar Kütt from the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG Research & Innovation) outlined the EC’s investments in research in the circular economy and bioplastics to develop the technology needed in order to make today’s waste tomorrow’s resources.

Sabine Wirén-Lehr from Tetra Pak International talked about the company’s efforts in replacing conventional durable plastics by recyclable bio-based ones in their carton food packaging. In 2015, Tetra Pak launched the world’s first fully renewable and fully recyclable carton package, Wirén-Lehr informed. She also stressed that policy must incentivize renewable, bio-based materials and called for separate collection of all packaging because what is not collected, will not be recycled.

In the afternoon session, Enrique Moliner from AIMPLAS presented two projects on food and beverage packaging made from polylactic acid (PLA). In the scope of the EU-funded BIO4MAP project, a transparent multilayer packaging for fresh pasta and cheese was developed, combining PLA, polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), and a natural wax based coating. In the second project, AIMPLAS successfully developed a PLA wine bottle for a winery to replace polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles used for some specific wines.

The second day opened with an update on bioplastics market data by Kristy-Barbara Lange from EUBP. She reported that the production capacities for all bioplastic materials are growing, despite the low oil price. Packaging applications are still leading the field making up almost 40% of the market.

Following, Rob Opsomer from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation presented the foundation’s New Plastics Economy report (FPF reported) and initiative (FPF reported). The goals include 1) creating an after-use economy for plastics, 2) reducing the leakage of plastics into the environment, and 3) decoupling plastics form fossil feedstocks. Bioplastics play an important role in achieving all three goals, Opsomer stated. He further informed that a follow-up report on the New Plastics Economy will be presented in January 2017 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, and that in spring 2017 the initiative will launch the first ‘moonshot innovation’ challenge.

A subsequent panel discussion moderated by Mr. Opsomer involved Constance Issbrücker from EUBP, Delphine Lévi-Alvarès from Zero Waste Europe, Martina Kolarek from NABU – Naturschutzbund Deutschland, and Steve Davies from NatureWorks. The panelists explained their views on the role of bioplastics in the context of the New Plastics Economy and agreed that keeping a material or product at its highest integrity will retain most of its value. Also, compostable plastics should be used as a tool to divert organic waste from incineration or landfills to composting plants. Thus, compostability should be limited to specific uses, such as organic waste collection bags or certain types of food packaging. For other clean (bio)plastic streams, reuse and recycling are the preferred options. When asked about the most important contribution of bioplastics to the circular economy, the panelists stated that bioplastics can help to 1) innovate new materials with better functionality, 2) raise awareness about the environmental issues of conventional plastics and the links to climate change, 3) regenerate ecosystems if their degradation/composting products are truly benign, and 4) decouple plastics from fossil feedstocks.

Read more

EUBP (2016). “11th European Bioplastics Conference.

EUBP (December 1, 2016). “‘Rethinking Plastics’ – Insights into the bioplastic materials of the future.

EUBP (November 30, 2016). “Global bioplastics production capacities continue to grow despite low oil price.