Danimer VP: European Commission’s packaging waste revisions boost bioplastics but miss opportunities
07 Mar 2023 --- The European Commission’s (EC) proposed revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) promise growth opportunities for bioplastic suppliers by mandating that only industrially compostable packaging be allowed for tea bags, filter coffee pods and pads, fruit and vegetable stickers and very light plastic bags.
Danimer Scientific welcomes the new rules but argues that the EC’s support for compostables does not go far enough. The US bioplastics company wants the product list expanded to other single-use applications.
The company’s polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) materials are used in certified industrially compostable coffee pods, which have been available in the EU for several years. The materials are also suited for thin films and bags.
However, the EC’s product list leaves out the potential for other compostable products made using PHAs, which Danimer manufactures from annually renewable canola oil and offer biodegradability under a broad set of natural conditions, including home compost bins.
In November, the EC proposed new regulations regarding plastic and packaging to curb the increase in waste being produced across Europe. The proposals will soon be considered by the European Parliament and the European Council and potentially voted into law.
We speak to Keith Edwards, vice president of business development at Danimer, about the new proposed rules and their potential effects on bioplastics manufacturers.
Welcome regulatory guidance
In general, Edwards views the new directive as a positive development for EU waste management, as specifying certified compostable packaging and products could help overcome the lack of recycling potential for certain applications, such as fruit stickers and coffee pods.
“This action will help the small but growing bioplastics industry to gain valuable traction and further incentivize innovation and investment into bioplastics-based packaging solutions,” he explains.
“Having regulatory guidance will also help brand owners make the decision to transition away from traditional plastics more quickly. If the new directive is approved, bioplastic makers should benefit as market demand for certified compostable bioplastics grows in the EU.”
Innova Market Insights recently flagged “Renewable rebellion” as a top packaging trend for 2023, noting that pollution and climate change fears and geopolitical uncertainties around the availability of oil and gas are driving the movement to bio-based packaging.
Meanwhile, global consumer support for bioplastics remains strong. Only 6% perceive bioplastics as unsustainable.
The bigger picture
While the new directive is a good first step, it falls short of encouraging bio-based content, which Edwards stresses will be a critical aspect in meeting other environmental goals in the region.
“Bioplastics may be fossil-derived or based on recently fixated carbon sources in the range of 0-100% bio-based carbon. Embracing both renewable carbon content and certified compostability for food packaging applications makes sense across a wide range of future goals for the EU, including net zero greenhouse gas emissions,” he says.
Additionally, he reiterates that the directive should broaden target applications in food packaging for the use of compostable materials.
“Achieving the regional recycling goals will require tackling food waste as a major topic, and the use of certified compostable products will aid this effort and ensure cleaner capture of food residuals for recycling,” he continues.
“Lastly, the EU should consider how broader biodegradability claims, such as home compostability, soil and marine biodegradability, could play an important role in helping to achieve the regional targets for recycling and preventing plastic pollution.”
European Bioplastics has been harsher in its criticisms of the PPWD revisions. The association warns the EC’s focus on reusable packaging targets threatens to shut down the bioplastics sector in Europe.
For Edwards, the EU should review the PPWD directive and modify its language to consider certified compostable products as part of wider recycling infrastructure. It should also grant incentives for bioplastics used in compostable products via organic waste composting, similar to recycling traditional plastics.
“Also, the EU should consider how innovative materials like PHA are able to be employed for single-use food packaging applications to fit both into the growing compostable recycling industry and help prevent plastic pollution by not persisting if products are not disposed of properly thanks to their broad biodegradability performance,” he adds.
Currently, the EU’s PPWD requires member states to recycle 70% of all packaging by 2030 and 55% of plastic packaging by the same year.
“US brand owners such as PepsiCo, Mars and Starbucks are targeting both industrial and home packaging solutions using PHA from Danimer, and the EU should recognize the market trend and include these materials in future revisions.”
Ultimately, policymakers should embrace the innovation offered by bioplastics such as PHA and seek to employ their unique contribution to recycling targets as part of new directives, concludes Edwards.
Meanwhile, environmentalists have accused the EC of watering down circular economy targets and bowing to lobbying pressure after multiple PPWD drafts were leaked last year.
European Bioplastics expects global bioplastics production to almost triple by 2027. In 2022, packaging remained the biggest market segment for bioplastics (48% by weight).
By Joshua Poole
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