EU Plastic Bans Politics & Legislation

Guidelines for EU SUP Directive (FREE)

The European Commission has just published an explanatory note on the EU SUP directive. I've identified and analysed all the bits relating to bioplastics.

Introduction

The Guidelines do not cover in detail fishing gear and products made from oxo-degradable plastic. As regards the latter, Article 5 of the Directive bans all oxo-degradable plastic products, single-use or not, and it makes no distinction between oxo-degradable plastic that is biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastic that is not biodegradable.

The European Commission is not neutral here.

Novamont and BASF have directly and indirectly been the instigators of the “anti-OXO campaign” and have been very successful. They managed to include European Commission public officials on the anti-OXO band wagon.

Banning substances like OXO (bio)degradable plastics or additives should “technically-speaking” happen through a procedure set up by the REACH directive. The EU SUP directive should ban “objects”, the REACH directive should ban “substances”.

The European Commission also shows negligence when throwing OXO degradable and OXO biodegradable on the same heap.

OXO refers to “oxygen” or “oxidation”. A molecule or atom looses electrons because of the presence of oxygen or other oxidising agents.

Bio-degradation refers to degradation through a biological process (bacterial digestion for instance).

Almost everything degrades under influence of oxygen and biological process… even plastics that has not been developed to intentionally degrade and biodegrade.

The European Commission is overlooking the fact that PBAT is also added to most biodegradable plastics and would also fall under “biodegradable” additives.

This is a political decision driven by perceived economic interest.

2.1.3 Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified

“Plastics manufactured with modified natural polymers, or plastics manufactured from biobased, fossil or synthetic starting substances are not naturally occurring and should therefore be addressed by this Directive. The adapted definition of plastics should therefore cover polymer-based rubber items and bio-based and biodegradable plastics regardless of whether they are derived from biomass or are intended to biodegrade over time” [Emphasis added]

The European Commission is right here.

Some people tried to define bioplastics as something else than “plastics” for two reasons:

  • plastics has a bad reputation in the eyes of the public (marketing reason)
  • an attempt to exempt bioplastics from the EU SUP directive (legal reason)

Plastics is very sustainable compared to other packaging materials. Many people perceive plastics as an environmental hazard. This is a good example of perception vs reality.

The problem is not the plastic material; the problem is how (plastic) waste is dealt with.

Therefore, polymers resulting from biosynthesis through man-made cultivation and fermentation processes in industrial settings, e.g. polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), are not considered natural polymers as not being the result of a polymerisation process that has taken place in nature. In general, if a polymer is obtained from an industrial process and the same type of polymer happens to exist in nature, the manufactured polymer does not qualify as a natural polymer.

The European Commission is right.

The industrial process to produce PHA is not a natural process although PHA may be made through a natural bacterial process.

In the case of PHA production, the bacteria are placed under “stress” and are then “bursted”… not really a natural process.

Paper-based cups with bio-based or biodegradable plastic lining or coating sold in retail and wholesale stores. Included in the scope of the EU SUP directive

The European Commission is right here in the sense that they remain consistent with their beliefs.

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