On December 4-5, 2018, the industry association European Bioplastics (EUBP) held its 13th annual conference in Berlin, Germany (FPF reported). The event gathered over 400 attendees and featured speakers from regulatory authorities, research institutes and consultancies, brands, the chemical industry, the (bio)plastics industry, environmental organizations, composting and recycling facilities, as well as academia.
In his welcome address, François de Bie, chairman of European Bioplastics, highlighted the current negative image of plastics in the media. He attributed this undesirable depiction to the lack of end-of-life solutions for plastic materials. He called on the plastics and bioplastics industry to take responsibility in finding a “good home” for plastic products after their use.
The first day of the conference then opened with a presentation by Michiel de Smet of the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General (DG) for Research and Innovation. De Smet presented the different regulatory pieces involved in the EU’s circular economy package, namely the waste legislation, the bioeconomy strategy, the plastics strategy, and the proposed directive on single-use plastics. He addressed potential barriers to and risks in the EU’s plans, such as lack of systemic thinking and cross-value chain collaboration, perpetuation of old linear practices, missing financing instruments, and negative environmental or social impacts. Nevertheless, he closed by saying: “I strongly believe that the future is bright.”
Philippe Diercxsens of Danone Waters informed about the company’s use of packaging materials for its food and drink products, with 50% of packaging being made of plastics. Danone pledged to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. The company will look into alternative reuse or delivery models, remove problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging, and possibly use alternative materials such as glass, fibers, or metals. For its water brand Evian, Danone aims to use 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in bottles by employing chemical recycling. Further, Danone supports the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment (FPF reported) which foresees that “[a]ll plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals, and the health, safety, and rights of all people involved are respected.”
As bioplastics are increasingly promoted and used for food contact applications, Marcos Yanini Badenas of AIMPLAS gave an introduction into the EU’s main legal texts regulating food contact materials (FCMs), with a focus on plastics. Badenas explained that any material coming into contact with food, direct or indirect, may transfer constituents to food (i.e., migration). This is a safety concern that needs to be regulated. As stated in the EU framework regulation on FCMs, migration must not endanger human health; substances used in plastic and bioplastic FCMs must comply with specific migration limits (SMLs) according to the EU regulation on food contact plastics.
On the second day, a bioplastics market update was provided by Hasso von Pogrell, managing director of European Bioplastics. The global bioplastics market is expected to grow by approximately 25% by 2023. This growth will mainly be driven by an increase in production of the bio-based and biodegradable polymers polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), as well as bio-based and non-biodegradable polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene furanoate (PEF). Packaging applications present the main area of use for bioplastics, making up about 65% of the total market in 2018.
Stephen Wetmore of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) South Africa highlighted the many societal and technological benefit of plastics and stated that actually “we need more of them.” Therefore, more focus should be put on developing a knowledge- and science-based bioeconomy and promoting the use of bioplastics.
During a panel discussion, Meadhbh Bolger of Friends of the Earth Europe, Rana Pant of the EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Nikolay Minkov of the Technical University of Berlin, Germany, and Annamari Enström of Neste Corporation, discussed the applicability of life cycle assessment (LCA) as a tool to evaluate the sustainability of bioplastics compared to fossil-based plastics. Bolder stressed that, generally, LCAs mostly focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and do not account for, e.g., exposure to hazardous chemicals in plastic applications such as FCMs (FPF reported).
René Saint-Loup of Roquette presented the benefits of polyethylene co-isosorbide terephthalate (PEIT) as an alternative to conventional polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The company’s bio-based isosorbide can improve the properties of PET, making PEIT a good packaging solution that can be used for applications such as water bottles, baby bottles, and food cooking jars, Saint-Loup explained. PEIT can be mechanically recycled like PET and has an improved LCA profile compared to PET.
EUBP (December 5, 2018). “New market data: The positive trend for the bioplastics industry remains stable.”
EUBP (December 7, 2018). “Record attendance and innovative solutions at the 13th European Bioplastics Conference.”
EUWID Verpackung (December 11, 2018). “Weltmarkt für Biokunststoffe legt in nächsten fünf Jahren um voraussichtlich 25 Prozent zu.” (in German)