Most plastics are made from fossil fuels, which contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
Alternative plastics, such as bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics may be a more sustainable alternative to fossil-based, non-biodegradable plastics. However, they present both new opportunities and risks that must be carefully assessed.
There is currently no EU law in place applying to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics in a comprehensive manner.
Therefore, in the European Green Deal and new circular economy action plan, the European Commission announced a policy framework on the sourcing, labelling and use of bio-based plastics, and the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics.
The Commission will assess where the use of bio-based feedstock leads to genuine environmental benefits, and not only reduces the use of fossil resources. The Commission will also assess where using biodegradable and compostable plastics can be beneficial to the environment, and the criteria for these uses.
What are bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics?
There is widespread confusion among consumers about the sustainability and environmental impacts of different types of plastics. The umbrella term “bioplastics” is often used to describe very different materials, and the terms “bio-based”, “biodegradable” and “compostable” may be misleading.
Bio-based plastics are fully or partially made from biological resources, rather than fossil raw materials. They are not necessarily compostable or biodegradable. It is important to examine the full life cycle of bio-based plastics, to ensure that they are beneficial to the environment beyond the reduction in use of fossil resources. This includes littering and changes in land use.
Biodegradable and compostable plastics biodegrade in certain conditions, andmay bemade from fossil-fuel based materials. They can contribute to reducing ‘unavoidable’ littering, but do not fully solve the littering problem. These plastics should be used when it is not possible to reduce, reuse or recycle, in line with the circular economy and waste hierarchy principles.
This forthcoming EU initiative aims to promote bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics that lead to genuine environmental benefits. Consumers should be offered clear and trustworthy options. The initiative aims to contribute to a sustainable plastics economy.
CEN has published several standards on bio-based products, but there is no clarity around the part of a plastic product that is entirely or partly derived from biomass. The EU does not have sustainability criteria that applies to bio-based plastics.
There is a harmonized EN standard for industrially compostable packaging. There is no general standard for marine biodegradation.
Key dates related to the upcoming policy framework on bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics
- 11 March 2020Publication of the new circular economy action plan
Including a policy framework for bio-based plastics and biodegradable or compostable plastics
- 11 December 2019Publication of the European Green Deal
Announcing that a policy framework for bio-based plastics and biodegradable or compostable plastics would be introduced under the circular economy action plan