ECBPI warns of €2B annual cost of plastic contaminated biowaste, calls on EU for systematic change
21 Dec 2022 --- The European Circular Bioeconomy Policy Initiative (ECBPI) is flagging a looming annual cost of up to €2 billion (US$2.13 billion) from plastic contamination in biowaste. ECBPI is therefore urging the European Commission (EC) to minimize contamination, related rejects and connected losses of biowaste and compost from the system and simultaneously reduce costs for disposal.
The group proposes the EC place higher disposal costs in landfill and incineration; make mandatory the use of certified compostable bags for the collection of biowaste and ban conventional plastic bags completely; and design out problem plastics such as fruit stickers, plastic tea bags, plastic coffee pods and sauce sachets that are inherently attached to food waste.
Additionally, operational measures to improve the management of compost and anaerobic digestion (AD) plants are recommended.
The Food Waste Collections: Unwrapping the biowaste potential report was presented earlier this month at an event organized by the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development in Brussels, Belgium. It evidences that the magnitude of potential operational and economic benefits shows the issue isn’t negligible. The report therefore recommends a specific focus at the EU level, in each country, and by local decision-makers.
David Newman, the co-founder of ECBPI, explains, “Mandatory separate food waste collections are due to come into force across the EU from 2024. This leaves little time to ensure that the waste is of the highest quality – by which I mean that it is as pure as possible before it reaches composting and AD installations.”
“The overwhelming burden on these food waste treatment facilities is the volume of plastics they currently receive in collection systems.”
The report highlights operational detriments arise from around 13 million metric tons of plastics per year that may more appropriately be reduced or recycled instead of becoming rejects in compost or biogas sites, dragging a corresponding volume of biowaste and digestate toward disposal.
“If the current legislative regime remains, by 2030, extracting plastics from food waste across the EU could lead to additional costs of up to €2 billion [US$2.13 billion] a year,” reiterates Newman.
“Local authorities collecting biowaste will have to extract those plastics and – with the food waste attached to them, which can be more than the plastics themselves – send them to incineration or landfill where they would emit harmful greenhouse gasses. Reducing this contamination will benefit not only treatment systems but also soil health (with the use of cleaner biofertilizers), air quality, and the pockets of EU citizens,” he elaborates.
Support groups rally
The report was presented by Sarah Wiener, Member of European Parliament, Greens, at the event and is endorsed by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), the European Environment Bureau (EEB), the composting and biogas associations – CIC of Italy, and Cré of Ireland.
Contamination of food waste by plastics and other wastes often exceeds 15% of food waste collected, making any treatment option very costly and with more significant risks of plastics being spread to soil with compost, according to ECBPI.
Thus, Percy Foster, CEO at Cré, questioned if sticky labels on fruit and vegetables are a “need,” pushing for the ban of some plastic items in addition to the redesign of others into compostable plastics that do not impact treatment such as bags, sachets, tea bags and coffee pods.
While Wiener highlighted the importance to European food systems of returning organic substances to soil cleanly, substituting imported fertilizers made with imported gas, Jean-Marc Simon, director at ZWE, asked the Commission why mandatory targets on food waste collection could not be designed, even though those targets exist for almost every other waste stream.
Moreover, Piotr Barczak, lead on waste policy at EEB, asked for greater ambition from the Commission and Parliament, especially since the revision of the Waste Framework Directive is due in 2023.
Authors Dr. Enzo Favoino and Dr. Michele Giavini, from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza, stressed using compostable bags – whether plastic or paper – and door-to-door collections were the only way to ensure high-quality and quantity collections.
Recently, speaking to PackagingInsights, Daphna Nissenbaum, co-founder and CEO at Tipa called for an increase in bio-based packaging solutions, rising publicity and investment in composting.
“A third of the world’s food goes to waste or is thrown away. With food, packaging is also discarded in large quantities. This results in a large amount of discarded plastic that never disappears. Meanwhile, climate change and soil degradation make growing enough food to feed an expanding population harder,” she remarked.
By Radhika Sikaria
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