Biodegradation & Composting Waste Management

What Happens to Compostable Plastics in Belgium?

I wanted to understand what happened to compostable plastics in Belgium and was a bit surprised with what I found out!


Belgium has 11 million people and has three territorial regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels) and 3 cultural communities (Dutch-speaking = Flemish, French-speaking = Walloons, German-speaking = region given to Belgium for WWII compensation). Flemish speak the same language as the people from the Netherlands and Walloons speak French. The German community speaks German and French. Brussels is a region on its own but is located “geographically” within the Flemish region but most of the native people are culturally closer to the Walloons because they speak the same language.

The Belgian state is divided into 1 federal government, 3 regional governments and 3 communities’ governments.

Waste management is a territorial issue, meaning that the “regional governments” are responsible for it.

I had a look on the website of the OVAM: this is the organisation that is responsible for waste, materials and soils for the Flanders region. Flanders is the largest region in Belgium. Most famous cities include Antwerp, Ghent, Mechelen, Ostend, etc.

Here’s what the OVAM says about compostable plastics:

Are bioplastics with an ‘OK compost’ label compostable?

A logo is not a sorting instruction. It is not because a product has a compostability logo that composting is guaranteed.

On the one hand, it turns out that the composting time for which the material has been tested (to obtain the logo) does not always correspond to the composting time in the composting installations.

On the other hand, many installations do a pretreatment to remove any contamination (metals, plastic, etc.).

The compostable plastics are usually removed before composting starts.

Furthermore, the current and future processing infrastructure in Flanders must also be taken into account.

The GFT (BIO-waste) composting invests in the construction of pre-fermentation plants.

Compostable bioplastics are not broken down in a fermentation installation.

Even more important in the context of the circular economy: composting compostable plastics has little or no added value: it breaks down 90% into CO 2 and water and hardly contributes to the quality or quantity of compost.

So much of the precious material is lost.

Are there any advantages to compostable plastics?

Yes. They can ensure more organic material are selectively collected. Just think of the GFT (kitchen- and garden waste) bags that you can get through your municipality or local company.

Compostable plastics can also offer a solution for current disturbance factors in composting. Just think of tea bags, coffee pads or fruit stickers that are largely made of plastic.

These small items are difficult to remove from the composting process and are currently disrupting composting.

They reduce the final quality of our compost.

If the industry could make all these things from compostable plastics, they could go with the organic waste and the problem of contamination would be solved.

For example, there are still products that could offer a solution to current problems. It is important that producers and processors discuss this.

Can bioplastics with an OK compost HOME label be placed on my compost pile or in my compost bin?

These products have been tested in a lab according to home composting conditions.

It is assumed that people think carefully about what they throw in the compost heap or compost bin and manage it well.

In that case, you can never give a 100% guarantee.

Therefore OVAM does not recommend it.

If the conditions are not optimal, the material does not break down, or at worst, it breaks down half (with the possible formation of microplastics).

Why can’t we throw compostable plastic packaging with the PMD (plastic bottles and metal), together with other plastic packaging?

It is better not to throw packaging with a compostable label with the pmd.

This can interfere with recycling if they are not properly recognized by the sorting sensors.

This leads to lower quality of recyclates, deteriorating the color of recyclate, etc.

They cause pollution and the resulting plastic recyclate can no longer serve new products.

When they are recognized, they end up in the fraction that goes to incineration.


Bioplastics – Veelgestelde vragen en antwoorden


Let’ summarise:

  • It’s not allowed to sort your compostable plastic packaging with your organic waste. If you do, the industrial composters will remove and incinerate it.
  • The “composting time” tested to issue a “compostable label” to a product does not correspond with the composting time of the industrial composting facilities.
  • The only “compostable plastic ” items that are welcome to go to the industrial composting facilities are tea bags, coffee pads and fruit stickers.
  • Compostable plastics cannot be mixed with other plastic waste intended for recycling because it will be perceived as contamination.

I have to add something. I’m not 100 % sure that coffee pads should be made with compostable plastics. I think there are more sustainable options out there. Read the following article.

The Future of PLA Coffee Caps


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