First of all, to avoid misunderstandings: I am a big fan of plastics, they are magical materials, as Guru Sadhguru from India explains so beautifully on YouTube, and they will be even more important in the future than they are today. But they have two problems, they use too little renewable carbon (biomass or CO2) and they lead to microplastics in the environment, especially noticeable as “marine littering”. The European Commission finally had to act and is now proposing, among other things, a ban on certain single-use plastic products, such as “plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead” (interesting how “sustainable” has been defined here, since most life cycle assessments of plastic articles are positive). The Commission’s legislative proposal must then be negotiated with the member states and the European Parliament. And here substantial changes should still be made – because so far industry and politics continued to fail in this area.
Microplastics have been in the public eye for at least ten years. The plastics industry has tried to sit this issue out, waiting until the public pressure became too high. Then the main argument was, what can our plastics do if people will not handle it properly and politicians do not organize better recycling. But in fact, the plastic can do something about it. For years there has been another solution for plastic products that are practically impossible to collect and recycle or whose preparation is far too costly: biodegradable plastics. Why not become innovative and pro-active here?
The European Commission and the member states have spent several million Euros in the last ten years to develop, certify and label such plastics. Plastics that are biodegradable in water, soil, home compost or industrial composting and do not leave any microparticles behind. And today there are many producers of such biodegradable plastics, even chemical giants like BASF produce them, there are certifications and labels and there is the European Bioplastics Association, which compiles comprehensive information. But these new plastics are still a little too expensive to become sure-fire success. And now they don’t even get a chance in the new European plastics strategy! The European Commission indeed addresses the issue in its paper, writes that Italy and France use this option, that research and standardisation are still needed now and that it would be possible to include it later. It is also interesting that “biodegradation” is only mentioned in the context of the marine environment, although 90% of the plastic in the ocean comes from land and river sources, where biodegradation is much easier and faster. This is completely ignored.
So, keep hoping and waiting for the next evaluation of the strategy? No, seize the opportunity for innovation and sustainability now. We prohibit disposable products such as plastic tableware, plastic cutlery, plastic straws, cotton swabs and plastic balloon holders if they are not biodegradable. But let us finally give biodegradable plastics, which have been successfully developed for years, their chance on the market! We also need solutions for other plastic products that, even if used properly, end up in the environment and can hardly or not at all be recycled. A few examples would be mulch films, tree protection covers, plant clips, binding yarns, strings for lawn trimmers, carrier polymers for fertilizers and pesticides or even plastic baits at sea and there are many more. Let us take a step forward in all of Europe, as only Italy, France and China have done so far. Because now is the time where the rules for the coming decades are being laid down.
- Sadhguru’s wonderful insight on plastic menace, https://news.bio-based.eu/sadhgurus-wonderful-insight-on-plastic-menace/
- Single-use plastics: New EU rules to reduce marine litter,
- Factsheet 3: Biodegradability – exposing some of the myths and facts (PDF),
Source: nova-Institut GmbH, 2018-05-29.