Bioplastics
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) June 2008

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INDEX 1 2 Definition Market Development How large is the bioplastics market – current and future? How large is production capacity for bioplastics? What factors are influencing market development? 3 Areas of Application What are bioplastics current areas of application? 4 Costs How are the cost structure and competitiveness of bioplastics? 5 The Environment Environmental Profile of Bioplastics Bioplastics versus conventional plastics Environmental and economical advantages of bioplastics End-of-Life: Recovery Options What is Organic Recycling? Composting of bioplastics (aerobic treatment) Biogasification (anaerobic treatment) So-called ‘oxo-degradable plastics’ not suitable for organic recovery What is Thermal Recovery? What is Mechanical Recycling? Landfill – current status and future development? Conclusion 6 Bioplastics and food? Bioplastics versus biofuels Conclusion 7 Politics What can politics achieve to assist market introduction & technology development? Political measures 2 .

3 . which are compostable according to the above-mentioned standards and certification.g. b) Biobased plastics produced on the basis of renewable resources The focus here is their raw materials basis. cereals. The compostability of plastics therefore must be proven by recognised testing standards (Europe: EN 13432. PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) type polyesters e. bio-based polymers use carbon from renewable resources such as sugar. potatoes. Examples: For a): Compostable polymer products: starch based materials (starch blends).g. specific synthetic polyesters made from crude oil or natural gas. the legally binding standard for the compostability of plastics in all EU member states or EN 14995. USA: ASTM D-6400. vegetable oils or cellulose in production. ASTM D-6866. There are also synthetic polymers (based on fossil raw materials). polyethylene (PE) or polyvinylchloride (PVC) based on bio-ethanol (e. starch. Products made thereof should be certified by independent third party certifiers and labelled with the trademarked "seedling" logo.g.g. other countries: ISO 17088). cellulosic materials from chemically modified cellulose. PHV. PHB.g. made from castor oil. specific polyamids e. in future also e. Industrial users. The proportion of renewable carbon used in the product can be determined using analytical methods e. other materials produced from chemically modified cellulose.g. A large proportion of certified compostable plastic products available on the market today contain a high proportion of renewable raw materials. based on bio-propanediol (PDO). PLA (polylactide). Corn. Bio-based polymers are not in all cases biodegradable and compostable. For b): Bio-based polymer products (here: not compostable): Specific polyesters e.1 Definition What are Bioplastics? Two different concepts underlie the term ‘Bioplastics’: a) Compostable plastics certified according to EN13432 and based on renewable (biobased) and/or non-renewable (fossil) resources The focus here is on their functionality "compostability". from sugar cane). consumers and waste management operators need to be able to identify products and assign them to composting where appropriate. Rather than using fossil carbon in manufacturing conventional plastics. sugar cane and wood are the most commonly used feedstocks.

More detailed facts and figures (statistics) on market development will become available as the bioplastics’ market share increases. If all these announcements come to fruition. Market introduction of bioplastic products has already started in most of the EU countries. followed by Belgium. Switzerland and Scandinavia. which are due to become commercially available at the end of 2008. will start production in 2009. Netherlands and Germany. Investment is occurring across all areas – in compostable bioplastics such as starch blends and PLA. Experts regard a technical application potential of 5-10% of the total plastics market as realistic. global production capacity will quadruple from nearly 300. This estimation is based on biodegradable polymers. all bioplastics applications comprised approximately 75. It does not take into account bio-based PE (polyethylene). The majority of bioplastics have only recently completed the basic development and are thus on the brink of broader market introduction. France. Market figures currently published by European Bioplastics are based on information which includes member surveys and publications including market studies and expert opinion. Italy.000-100. but also in new polyesters such as PHA. the market for bioplastics in Europe could well reach a magnitude of about 5 million tons by 2020. which have been on the market for several years. which will be outlined in more detail below. This represents a completely new development and is a sign of amazing change.2 Market development How large is the bioplastics market – current and future? European Bioplastics estimates that in 2007. 4 . Annual growth is considerably higher than 20%. Bio-based PVC was announced for the first time in 2008.000 tons today to well over a million tons by 2011. Austria. The EU countries with comparably advanced market development are England. which.000 tons of the total 48 million ton European plastics market. it was recently announced. Two companies have announced that in future they will produce biobased polyethylene from bio-ethanol.000 tons today to well over a million tons by 2011. With regard to the theoretical technical market potential. The actual growth will depend on various factors. European Bioplastics has commissioned a study to analyse the potential for bioplastics (for publication at the end of 2008). Over the past twelve months many companies have announced the beginning or expansion of production. How large is production capacity for bioplastics? Global production capacity will quadruple from nearly 300.

in particular:     Investment conditions for the construction of larger production plants The development of raw materials prices (agricultural versus fossil) Willingness of industrial users to introduce new products into the market Political and legal framework conditions which can hamper or promote the market introduction of bioplastics 5 .What factors are influencing market development? Factors exercising an influence on the development dynamic.

which can also be used as organic waste bags. in leisure (sporting shoes. In the field of medical technology. In the initial phase of market introduction. The simple disposal and the fact that the sale period could in part be extended are beneficial to retailers. Japan is currently the main centre for this development. and sustainability criteria such as reduction of CO2 emissions. spare tyre covers) is in an early state of market penetration. A purchasing cost surcharge can pay itself off when disposal or labour costs are lower (see 4. plates. They can increase the volume of collected organic waste. urns etc. Bottles made from PLA are used for nonsparkling beverages and dairy products. below). The development of durable products such as those in consumer electronics (laptop and mobile phone casings etc. and recently also fresh meat.  Catering products for large events or service packaging for snack food sales. such as tyres with starch materials incorporated to reduce hysteresis and fuel consumption. which are already available on the market. They can simply be composted after use along with any remaining food scraps. offering the opportunity to reduce labour and disposal cost.). Market studies have revealed a generally very high consumer acceptance of bioplastics in many countries. for example low electrostatic charging. cups.  Film packaging for foods with short shelf life which require attractive presentation. special biodegradable plastics have been in use for some time as stitching materials and for decades for screws or implants (niche products with extremely high prices). Spoiled foodstuffs can be recovered via composting with no need for separation of packaging and contents at point of sale. products are often used in niche markets.  Biodegradable mulch film which can be ploughed into the field once it has been used. The focus is equally on functionality.  Rigid packaging such as containers and bottles. therefore reduce landfill.3 Areas of application What are bioplastics current areas of application? Bioplastics are generally used where functionality (fit for purpose) and environmental performance offer benefits.are often regarded to be a key market for bioplastics with regard to the sizeable market volume and valid arguments in favour of their use. cutlery and bags amongst others.  Many other products make use of their specific functionalities. The following applications or product segments are exhibiting high growth rates:  Compostable waste bags to collect organic waste and carrier bags. The level of technical complexity of bioplastics packaging is increasing: Co-extruded double or multiple layer film products have been commercialised recently. ski boots etc. cellulose films and PLA films.). netting and (foam) trays for (organically produced) fruit and vegetables. 6 . and improve the composting process and compost quality. or to extend shelf life. This involves an advantageous combination of bioplastics such as starch-based materials. and in the automobile industry (interior trim. The available compostable product portfolio includes trays. diapers with silky softtouch back sheet. These include compostable pouches. Such bags – most of them are bio-based too .

g. Their competitiveness over conventional plastics should also continue to improve into the future through more effective processes. The price of bioplastics has continued to fall over the past ten years. Governmental programmes have been established. providing political support (subsidies) to promote the market introduction of compostable or bio-based packaging products respectively. The costumer’s choice has shaped today's commercialised product portfolio. longer product life). Given bioplastics’ high content of renewable resources. reduced disposal costs in the composting of used products. possible economies of scale and simultaneous increasing competition from new market players. such as technical performance (e. they have the advantage that they are less dependent on price movements in fossil resources (crude oil). 7 . The selection of the “right” application is the key to successful marketing. for example in the Netherlands and in Germany. Users are also considering other factors for their buying decision. packaging for organic food.g. if feasible. e.4 Costs How are the cost structure and competitiveness of bioplastics? The situation for bioplastics is typical for innovations:     High research and development costs High production costs caused by small scale production Optimisation potential of production facilities not exploited to the full Considerable price differential to conventional commodity products The increased use of bioplastics and biopackaging by consumers in Europe shows that the price differentials can be accepted in specific application fields. image-creation and.

Barriers to innovation with far reaching consequences would result. Bioplastics.5 The environment Environmental Profile of Bioplastics The bioplastics industry is working intensively on achieving the best possible environmental profile for their products. growth markets or global export opportunities develop from innovative technologies such as bioplastics. Conventional plastics are technically mature. processing and disposal determine the environmental profile of a product. If jobs. and their production and distribution processes and recycling paths are not yet optimised. Factors such as energy consumption and CO2 emissions in product manufacture. Bioplastics can be produced throughout Europe and will therefore reduce dependence on imports while offering export opportunities. growth in the market for products made from bioplastics can ensure the financing of the ecological advancement of the technology and the setting up of optimised infrastructure. 8 . are in an early stage of development. It is not however possible to make blanket assumptions such as "bioplastics are the more environmentally friendly solution". The use of renewable resources in the material may offer a major advantage of bioplastics over conventional plastics made from crude oil as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. The comparison therefore merely provides a snapshot. standards. use and disposal. Disregard for this could lead to over-estimation of the status quo with the consequence that further development of bioplastics could be slowed or halted. Such an evaluation assesses all the steps in the life cycle of the product. Comparison of the environmental performance of products made from bioplastics with conventional products can only be achieved through a product-related life cycle assessment (LCA) corresponding to the internationally binding ISO 14040 et seqq. Environmental and economical advantages of bioplastics There are many good reasons to support the bioplastics innovation. Life cycle assessment is being utilized to optimise processes and the overall environmental performance of products. on the other hand. Bioplastics versus conventional plastics It must however be taken into consideration that a direct comparison of conventional plastic products with bioplastic products may lead to an inappropriate image. On the other hand. for example raw material production. processing. Environmental aspects are top of the list. high quantity products (commodities). this is positive both for the economy and the individual. It is furthermore important to consider the following: Sustainability covers not only environmental aspects but also economic and social components. Various LCA studies have documented significant savings in the consumption of fossil energy and considerably reduced CO2 emissions for different types of bioplastic products. transport.

By keeping the biowaste collection more hygienic and convenient. i. market volume. The choice of the best. will usually provide a mix of recovery options. Bioplastics offer in principle all the recovery options in place for conventional plastics . H2O and biomass. legislation. humidity and the abundance of microbes. This standard is legally binding in all EU member states. Composting of bioplastics (aerobic treatment) Most commercialised bioplastic products are certified ‘compostable’ according to the relevant European standards (EN 13432 or EN 14995). The EU Directive is based on the European standard for the industrial compostability of plastic packaging. so that claiming ‘compostability’ for a packaging material or a packaging can only be done after showing compliance of the respective item with EN 13432. water and biomass (as part of the compost product). Compostable bioplastic products such as waste or shopping bags can be used to collect organic household waste in municipalities in many EU countries. aiming at the most efficient use of the collected waste as a resource. When entering composting plants they are converted to CO2. ‘compostability’ is further defined by a time limitation in line with the requirements of industrial composting plants (4-12 weeks).End-of-Life: Recovery Options Common treatment options for plastic waste are thermal recovery. Rapid biodegradation can only take place if all three criteria are fulfilled simultaneously. These factors can differ greatly from region to region and from one application to another. Municipalities and/or private recycling companies.plus the additional option of organic recycling. These bags are highly breathable and allow the evaporation of water from the organic household waste. Whereas ‘aerobic biodegradation’ describes the microbial transformation of carbon containing material into CO2. and last but not least. However it must be kept in mind that bioplastic applications cover many different products with widely varying specific compositions and product design. The resulting compost can be used as a soil improver and can in part also replace mineral fertilizers. EN 13432. the most ecological and economically efficient recovery route for bioplastics is dependent on many factors such as the character of the product. costs. An equivalent standard has been approved by the European standardization organization CEN for the testing of compostability of plastics. existing infrastructure for collection and recovery. This occurs particularly in professional biowaste treatment plants. The biodegradation of compostable plastics is dependent on three main factors: elevated temperature.e. EN 14995. so that the weight of the collected waste decreases (→ advantage in case 9 . mechanical recycling and landfill. What is Organic Recycling? Organic recycling as defined by the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC (amended in 2004/12/EC) as the aerobic treatment (= composting) or anaerobic treatment (= biogasification) of packaging waste. such bags contribute to the motivation of consumers for the separate collection of biowaste.

the complete packaging including the goods can be sent to organic recovery without unpacking. Compostable cups.e.: polyolefines with metal-containing additives) are sometimes advertised as being ‘biodegradable’ or even ‘compostable’. methane is produced from organic substrates. Some bioplastics. There are no known ‘oxo-degradable’ products in the marketplace. define the requirements for materials. Catering articles are another example of bioplastic products exhibiting advantages for waste management. Separate collection and recovery of organic (household) waste should be installed throughout Europe. This results in the decrease of methane emissions from landfill. No separate handling of food waste and packaging waste is needed and no contamination of other waste streams (e. In Italy and Australia lawsuits resulted in fines for using misleading claims like “compostable” in the marketing of such products. for example at public events or in cafeterias. The same benefit can be achieved for fruit or vegetables distributed in compostable packaging . which fulfil either of these standards. Many municipalities in Europe have recognised this and now recommend the use of such bags. This logo is currently in use in several European countries and is expanding to represent a European label for compostable plastic items. So-called ‘oxo-degradable plastics’ not suitable for organic recovery So-called ‘oxo-degradable plastics’ (i.of weight related fees) and the oxygen content increases (→ better processability in the composting plant. The biowaste treatment in anaerobic plants will always combine an initial anaerobic phase of approx. Biogasification (anaerobic treatment) In biogasification plants. higher quality of the compost product). The process is attractive because it yields both compost as a product and also renewable energy: the methane is captured to produce electricity and heat in power plants. Such claims are misleading if they are not substantiated by showing compliance with the relevant European standards EN 14995 or EN 13432. These.if they are no longer fit to be sold to consumers due to expiry of shelf life or damage. Compostable waste bags can help to manage such recovery schemes in the best possible way. above). 2 – 3 weeks and a second aerobic phase (‘aftertreatment’) of usually another 3 weeks to produce fertile compost. 10 . Industry companies providing truly compostable plastic products will make use of the established. Studies have shown that using compostable bags for the biowaste collection contributes to the diversion of organic waste from landfill.g. which only show slow biodegradation under anaerobic conditions are subsequently biodegraded under aerobic conditions in a second phase of treatment. plastic recycling) occurs when these products are composted. producer independent certification schemes proving compostability on the basis of tests according to EN 13432 or EN 14995. plates or cutlery can be treated together with food residues. These certification schemes provide the so-called ‘seedling’ label as a sign of compliance (see 1. which can be called ‘compostable’. Biowaste is used as an input material for biogasification plants in an increasing number of municipalities and in private plants.

The recycling industry has proven that it can also handle mixed plastic waste fractions. investment in recycling and sorting technologies is increasing. This was a pre-condition to installing schemes. as the high demand for purity often cannot be met at reasonable cost. they can be used to produce renewable energy if. in the recycling of PET or HDPE bottles. colours. However mechanical recycling will remain limited to specific fractions of the post-consumer plastic waste. coatings etc. The calorific value of bioplastics and the clean product composition allow bioplastics to be recovered thermally. separation and recycling technologies for bioplastics as well. In Europe the recycling of PET bottles has become a good example of establishing an economical. Recycling usually becomes much more complicated when mixed post-consumer plastics waste is used. they are incinerated with energy recovery (sometimes also called ‘waste-toenergy’). This is the case for the reprocessing of production waste: Converters of plastics usually have facilities installed to recycle the production scraps as a valuable raw material and feed them back into the production process. PLA has the potential to be recycled similarly to PET due to its chemical nature (polyester) and its application fields (e. sorting and separation technologies are key to producing quality recyclates.g.000. mechanical recycling of bioplastics is currently of no significance. Due to the high level of renewable resources in bioplastics products. With rising raw material prices. This is the case. For example.g.). PVC. Owing to comparably low market volume (see 2. Incineration (combustion) is the most prominent example. inks. which allow the recovery of bioplastics alongside existing recycling schemes for conventional polymers. This method is applicable to all bioplastics. PS. which have been tailored for one specific plastic waste type. What is Mechanical Recycling? Mechanical recycling is understood as the recycling back into plastics. Solutions can be based on sorting technologies. there are good opportunities to develop solutions in due time (i. above). including different bioplastics.What is Thermal Recovery? ‘Thermal recovery’ is the term for all exothermic waste management processes. beverage bottles). e.e. The typical situation is that post-consumer plastic waste collection schemes deliver a wide variety of polymer types (fractions of PE. etc. including laminates. glues. establish separate systems along with increases in bioplastics volume). it should be possible to install specific collection. It will only lead to high quality products when the input material is very pure. which yield energy and/or heat. 11 . PET. high quality recycling on a bulk scale. Due to the mixed and contaminated nature of post consumer waste.000 tons of total plastics market (in Europe) is currently being recycled back into plastics.These products are often naturally "contaminated" with various labels. This technology provides the opportunity to separate bioplastics as well as other plastic types from recovery systems. which yield high quality recyclates. Only a smaller proportion of the nearly 50. residues etc. compounds. The focus now must be on finding solutions. Sorting and pre-treatment technologies have been improved and now allow the selection of pure (enough) plastic waste. PP. Given the comparatively low volume of bioplastics on the market. Bioplastics are adding to the variety of plastics on the market. for example. With growing volume. the available NIR (near infra-red) technology which can detect virtually every plastic type. for example.

Recycling issues should not lead to hampering the development of bioplastics. yielding potentially high quality recyclates. sorting and recycling technologies.should not however end up in landfill without pre-treatment. Land filling of waste is generally not considered a ‘solution’. it is expected that the amount of bioplastics waste going to landfill will remain extremely low. As waste from bioplastics represents only a very low share of this waste (well below 1 %) and as bioplastics market volume is growing at the same time as municipal solid waste is actively being diverted from landfill. would solve the problem of methane emissions and improve ecology. Bioplastics – and much more importantly. The focus should be on the establishment of practical solutions for legislation. There is time and opportunity to develop solutions because bioplastics are still in their infancy with low market volume. incineration with energy recovery or recycling. Most bioplastic products are composted today and do not interfere with recycling. Several countries have already achieved these goals. It has to be kept in mind that bioplastics have only a very small share of the current 50 Million ton total plastics market in Europe. The intention must be to establish eco-efficient recycling systems by making use of all available recovery methods according to the particular product. thereby avoiding negative interference from existing plastic recycling schemes. and others have set up national strategies to fulfil the requirements in future. methane emissions from bioplastics are not a relevant issue. Composting is and will remain an important recovery route for many short-life bioplastic products. which can make use of all the established recovery and recycling technologies for conventional plastics and moreover offer the new option of organic recycling. They represent a new material group. therefore the focus for bioplastics should firmly be on the development of recovery systems. Mechanical or chemical recycling represent promising (new) options for some bioplastics. to which bioplastics can contribute e. organic food waste . Member states are required to reduce these amounts by 50 % by July 2009 and by 65 % by July 2016 (the reference year is 1995. the amount of municipal waste (especially from kerbside collection) going to landfills has already been limited and will be further reduced considerably. Conclusion It is and will continue to be the task of all parties involved in plastics waste management and of governmental institutions to work out best practice recovery solutions for both bioplastics and conventional plastics. Thermal recovery processes can handle bioplastics more easily due to their lower demand for purity. As a consequence. with some exemptions for a few countries). Stopping landfill of untreated organic waste.Landfill – current status and future development? The European Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC aims at reducing the amounts of biodegradable waste going to landfills.g. As bioplastics volumes are currently very low. either for the biological recovery. amongst other issues. communication. 12 . by enabling consumers to collect their organic waste separately in compostable bags.

she said. Technical solutions to use mainly non-food crops are under investigation or already in use. Other "influences" include increasing speculation on food commodities.6 Bioplastics and food? The current media debate is frequently emotional and not much factual information is provided to promote the discussion on the use of food crops in non-food applications. She provided arguments that are also valid for bioplastics: "Those who see biofuels as the driving force behind recent food price increases have overlooked not just one elephant standing right in front of them.euractiv. 100. EU Agriculture Commissioner Marianne Fischer-Boel has responded to the debate and rejected allegations that EU policies to promote biofuels are to blame for rising food prices (www.000 tons in Europe). According to Fischer-Boel. thus the area cultivated for the production of bioplastics can be estimated at approx. About 2-3 tons of bioplastics can be produced from one hectare of corn or wheat (using their starch). Strong efforts are being undertaken by the bioplastics industry to develop bioplastics from agricultural residues (cellulosic) and other waste streams.000. Canada. 30. Bioplastics should be regarded as a solution to promote sustainable development and not as a threat to it." she said. Ukraine and Australia in 2006 and 2007. Bioplastics versus Biofuels Noteworthy: There are significant differences between the use of agricultural feedstocks for biofuels production and for the production of bioplastics: Volumes: Whereas biofuels production has reached a multi-million ton level in the EU. All parties involved should focus their activities to enable the growth of bioplastics and to support sustainable development which takes into account that no raw material has unlimited availability and therefore the most efficient use of resources must be achieved. together with the bad weather that hit the EU.com/en/sustainability/biofuels). - Conclusion Bioplastics have no impact on the food supply and availability situation today. non-food supply). US. Many companies have set development goals to feed their raw material supply from crops or other agricultural feedstocks. Russia. but two. The cultivation area needed to supply the bioplastics industry is currently very small.000 ha in EU compared with a total agricultural area in Europe of more than 162. the rising food demand and dietary shift towards meat in emerging countries like China and India.000 ha according the European Commission. At a conference on May 6. have each had "an enormous impact on commodity markets". the bioplastics market is still in its infancy (approx. which are non-competing with food markets in the future (biorefinery concepts). 13 . There is a range of bioplastics materials that already use cellulosic feedstocks (wood) or food waste products like potato skins (non-edible.

but only 1. As such. Marienstr. 7 Politics What can politics achieve to assist market introduction and technology development? In contrast to the areas of biofuels and renewable energies.5 billion hectares are actually used.2 billion hectares are available for agricultural production worldwide. intelligent use cascades must be developed to promote the most efficient use of resources. Wherever there is an industrial composting infrastructure established in Europe.V. EN certified compostable plastic products should be allowed to enter that infrastructure (legislation must be adapted accordingly). there is currently no EU-wide framework for action to support the material use of renewable raw materials. The development of an integrated concept to coordinate both the material and the energetic use of renewable resources should be the highest priority.org 14 . which cover packaging made from bioplastics. Europe will have difficulty in competing globally. A positive example is the regulations in the German Packaging Directive.org www. Appropriate political measures should be implemented during the market introduction. Political measures Industrial composting (organic recycling) schemes should be developed and implemented across the EU. June 2008 European Bioplastics e. Use cascades increase value creation and simultaneously improve the economy and ecology of the products. 19/20 10117 Berlin. there is still scope for increasing the production of agricultural crops for both food and bioplastics. In consequence. 4. Without sufficient economic and technological value creation. Organic recycling represents a key step for compostable bioplastics and offers a wealth of benefits for short-life products.Noteworthy: According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and other governmental sources.european-bioplastics. Germany Phone: +49 30 284 82 350 Fax: +49 30 284 84 359 info@european-bioplastics. of which 900 million hectares are in LDCs (less developed countries).

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