The story goes as follow: industrial composting of plastic is organic recycling.
The word “organic” is used to describe a natural or biological way in contrast to an industrial or chemical way; for example, “organic farming” as opposed to “industrial, intensive or chemical farming”.
Where does it come from?
The carbon-nitrogen balance of the soil is very important. Intensive farming has been mostly using nitrogen-based fertilisers. It has added “nitrogen” in huge amounts but no “carbon” and has disrupted the carbon-nitrogen balance in the disadvantage of carbon.
Organic farming refers to rebalancing the carbon-nitrogen balance in the advantage of “carbon”. Carbon-based chemistry is called organic chemistry.
By adding carbon-rich elements (referred to as browns; dried leaves, dried grass clippings, cardboard and straw ) to the soil we rebuild that carbon-nitrogen balance in the advantage of carbon.
Carbon-rich waste shall degrade (chemical reaction) and supply carbon to the soil.
That’s organic (carbon-based) chemistry and thus …. organic (carbon-based) farming.
Industrial composting is a bacterial degradation process started by human intervention whereby the end residue is described as compost.
Carbon will be released during the industrial composting process in the case of compostable plastics. The carbon atoms will bind with oxygen atoms and form C02 … and lots of that CO2 will be released in the atmosphere because “composting” takes place in an open environment even if it happens under a roof (indoor).
One should use a close container to capture the released carbon. We are dealing with an anaerobic process if the container is closed, and that is not composting but fermentation (biomethanization).
Fermentation is an anaerobic process. It happens in closed tanks were no oxygen is added. The CO2 is not released in the open air but captured as biogas. Biogas is mostly made of methane and carbon dioxide.
Fermentation is more efficient in capturing carbon and CO2 than composting that releases CO2 in the atmosphere.
It’s possible to capture the carbon in an industrial composting facility, but you need to invest in a pre-fermentation installation.
Definition of Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste
Directive 94/62/EC on Packaging and Packaging Waste defines ‘organic recycling as’
‘organic recycling’ shall mean the aerobic (composting) or anaerobic (biomethanization) treatment, under controlled conditions and using micro-organisms, of the biodegradable parts of packaging waste, which produces stabilized organic residues or methane. Landfill shall not be considered a form of organic recycling;
What it should be
Organic recycling should refer to re-using the carbon for the same purpose; in this case packaging.
Recycling should refer to bottle-to-bottle re-conversion. Recycling PET bottles into polyester fibres is not “recycling”; it’s “down cycling”. The same applies for carbon.
Capturing CO2 should be the first step in re-cycling the released CO2. Composting cannot be referred to as an organic recycling process because it doesn’t capture the released CO2.
Fermentation is more efficient in capturing the released CO2, but it’s not truly recycling because the released CO2 will not be re-converted into packaging but into bioenergy (biogas).
Industrial composting cannot be referred to as organic recycling. Fermentation or biomethanization should be referred to as organic down cycling at the most….borderline energy recovery.
Why does the EU directive defines organic recycling as such?
The answer is “lobbying”. There’s power and money in definitions. Definitions serves the interests of some companies.