Italian Plastic Bag Law
The first bioplastics success story, and more precisely the first biodegradable / compostable plastics success story, starts in Italy with the “pro-bioplastic” law. The law creates a market for biodegradable bags because it sets a gradual ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags in 2006 and only allowed the use of biodegradable plastic, cloth or paper bags after 1 January 2011. Reading the words of the Minister of that time reminds us of what it’s all about … plastic bags.
“It is a great innovation,” It “marks a step forward of fundamental importance in the fight against pollution, making us all more responsible for using and recycling. For the law to give positive results, it is necessary that all the commercial entrepreneurs, large or small, and citizens get involved and experiment with alternatives to plastic bags.”The Environment Minister at that time, Stefania Prestigiacomo, said of the ban
Italy became the most important market for biodegradable plastic bags, and Novamont became the most successful compostable plastic bag company. The law was tailored to serve national interests.
The trouble starts when a company called “Symphony Environmental” tries to enter the Italian market to surf on the pro-bioplastic wave. This is where the dispute between the Abel and Cain of the bioplastics industry starts. It lays the fundament of the rhetoric behind the most famous duality of the bioplastics industry, namely the “Oxo-biodegradable” vs “compostable” plastic debate.
Biodegradable vs Compostable Plastic
Both options are “biodegradable” in the sense that the main degradation process relies on bacterial digestion. Compostability” is a room within the “Biodegradability” house. Everything that is compostable is biodegradable; but not everything that is biodegradable is compostable.
(1) Human intervention; bacteria will degrade the atomic structure of plastic. However, we need a trigger to start the biodegradation process. Compostable plastics relies on a human intervention to start the process, namely we need to place the packaging in a composting set up. In the case of biodegradable plastics, the degradation process is started by a non-human trigger.
(2) Residue; In the case of compostable plastic, the compostable plastics industry refer to the end residue of the biodegradation process as “compost”. In the case of biodegradable plastics, we do not refer to the end residue as compost.
Novamont Mater-Bi vs Symphony d2w
The difference between both companies is that they use a different technology and methodology.
On the compostable side, we have Novamont (Italy) using BASF (German) biodegradable co-polymer called PBAT. The bags are sold under the “Mater-Bi” brand and have the “industrial” compostable certification meaning they’re a supposed to be processed by an industrially scaled composting facility. The bags are not meant to biodegrade in the “open air”. There’s a two phase degradation process: hydrolysis (abiotic; moisture and heat) and bacterial digestion. The hydrolysis opens the “atomic” door and windows for the bacterial degradation process. The “composting” is the preferred end-of-life option of compostable plastics; in fact it’s supposed to be the only end-of-life option. The “composting” process lasts 3 months. Novamont is closely connected with Italians ENI (oil) and Versalis (petrochemicals). Novamont and BASF are influential and extremely well connected in the Italian and European power strata.
On the biodegradable side, we have Symphony Environmental (UK) and distributor Kromabatch (Italy). Symphony develops “biodegradable additives” under the brand name “d2w”. These additives are made to be added to fossil-based PE or polyethylene (most widely used plastics on the planet) . This upgrade will be referred to as “oxo-biodegradable” PE or plastics. Oxo refers to “oxygen”. We have a two phase degradation process: the oxidation (oxygen and sun light) opens the “atomic” door and windows for the bacterial degradation process. Oxygen is present at the earth’s surface so the bags will degrade in the “open air” without any human intervention. The “biodegradation” is not the preferred end-of-life option of oxo-biodegradable plastics; it’s supposed to be an insurance policy in case the packaging is not recycled but ends up in the open environment. Tactically speaking, this is a small advantage above the compostable plastics because it’s doesn’t require the participation and approval of the industrial composters. The biodegradation process lasts two or three years. Symphony is a UK-based SME pioneering in plastic additive technology.
Italian Court case
The legal battle starts when Symphony Environmental enters the Italian market through a distributor called Kromabatch.
The Italian law had been tailor-made to serve national interests so Symphony Environmental appeared like an English fly on an Italian pizza.
Novamont accused and sued Kromabatch for marketing their d2w bags as “compostable”. Kromabatch stated they had never claimed d2w was compostable. The Italian Judge Ferdinando Ciampi agreed with the claim of Novamont and sentenced Kromabatch on 8 January 2015 to pay indemnities to Novamont.
The decision of the Italian court in favour of Novamont is bizarre because Kromabatch had never made that claim, and the written judgment shows no evidence that they did. In fact they correctly claimed that their product had been tested in composting according to ISO 14855. Their only reference to EN13432 was to claim correctly that their product had been tested according to the eco-toxicity (not compostability) tests prescribed by that standard.OPA Spokesperson (OXO-Biodegradable Plastics Association)
Kromabatch was forced to stop the distribution of Oxo-biodegradable plastics in Italy. The Italian verdict is paradoxal because “oxo-biodegradable” plastic producers want to differentiate themselves from compostable plastics at any cost.
Kromabatch will not appeal the decision and eventually a few months later the Italian judge Ferdinando Ciampi will be be assassinated; executed and shot death in his courthouse with two bullets in his upper body and head in April 2015. Read more: Judge among three killed as man opens fire in Milan court
The Kromabatch marketing flyer at the centre of this court case can be found at the bottom of this article. The document refers 7 times to the word “compost” or “composting”.
Why would a “Oxo-biodegradable plastic” company use the words compost or composting when trying to position “oxo- biodegradable” plastics as an alternative to “compostable” plastic?
At the bottom of this question lays one of the most important “anti-bioplastics” argument and a fundamental paradox.
The argument is that Compostable or biodegradable plastic bags don’t biodegrade under “real life conditions” because their biodegradability is tested “under lab conditions” only.
The paradox is also related to the “lab testing”; both biodegradable and compostable plastics are “composted” by the scientist during the lab testing ….yes …. composted
Composting vs Compost
“Compost” and “composting” are not the same thing. Compost refers to the “end result”; composting refers to the “process”. Compost is defined as a mixture of ingredients to improve the quality of the soil; Composting is an aerobic method (it requires oxygen) of decomposing organic solid wastes.
- Composting doesn’t necessary require “compost” as end residue.
The scientist testing the biodegradability of a plastics in his lab is not “biodegrading” because that’s what the bacteria do. The scientist is accelerating or optimising the biodegradation process and that is what we call “composting” in the theoretical sense. To be able to test the biodegradation of “oxo-biodegradable” plastics, the lab scientist needs to create the setting and generate the “trigger” to start the degradation process. Ironically, he’s optimising the biodegradation process manually and is thus doing a “human intervention”. In this particular case, we can refer to “composting” even if the end residue is not “compost”.
- Is improving the soil quality, an indispensable criteria for good Compost?
Compost is supposed to improve the quality of the soil. However, imagine the following.
Many paper-based packaging containing a PFAS layer are composted. PFAS are chemicals used to make paper packaging water and fat proof. PFAS are toxic for humans and the ecosystems. The average consumer is unaware of this. The PFAS will contaminate the compost and make it toxic although it looks perfectly healthy. If we spread this “healthy-looking” compost full of PFAS on the soil, it will contaminate and degrade the soil. Can we still refer to this as “compost” in the sense that it is good for the soil?
The topic is complicated for scientists and experts. So you can imagine that for some marketeers who have an attention span of a gold fish, they may get lost in translation. Marketeers and scientists do not speak the same language and some people even claim they don’t live in the same world. One may assume that the court verdict may have missed this subtlety.
The Italian Connections
Every public affairs practitioner and lobbyists in Brussels knows that the Italians are disproportionally influential within the EU institutions; we shall refer to this as the “Italian connections”.
How did this came about? Apparently, the answer to this question is Romano Prodi, the ex -president of the European Commission (1999 – 2004). Romano Prodi boosted the Italian connections.
Do you know how Romano Prodi gained international fame in his earlier career? We’re at the end of the 1970s and in the middle of the Cold War. Two competing world orders divide the world: US vs USSR; capitalism vs communism
Aldo Moro was an Italian politician and Prime Minister who was kidnapped and assassinated in March 1978. Many believe Aldo Moro was killed because he wanted to reveal the existence of false flag clandestine military operations taking place in Europe under the code name Gladio. Aldo Moro’s wife later testified that her husband had been threatened by Henry Kissinger in person.
Romano Prodi got his moment of fame shortly after the kidnapping when he came out with the location where Aldo Moro was kept. Afterwards, Prodi had to explain where he got the information from. Prodi said that he got the info during a “seance beyond the grave“, where he used an “ouija board” to enter into contact with the souls of dead politician. (Read more Aldo Moro).
Let me come back to the Italian connections later on.
The First “Anti OXO” Amendment
European Commission Green Paper
The first “anti-oxo” amendment appears in the European Commission Green Paper on a European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment (07/03/2013). This document is the starting point of the EU plastic strategy. It’s intended to provide policy proposals for debate and discussion in the European Parliament. Here are a few elements of the green paper.
There are also biodegradability claims that should be scrutinized. For example, fragmentation of plastic enhanced with an oxidising agent (usually a metal salt) in the presence of oxygen, heat and UV light results in microscopic plastic fragments with similar properties as the bulk plastic. Oxo-degradation residues may have unclear impacts. Oxo-degradable plastics might risk contributing to the microplastics load reaching the marine environment and therefore might significantly increase the risk of ingestion by animals. The presence of oxidising agents in the plastic waste streams may also make plastic recycling more difficult. It should be assessed whether the use of the term biodegradable is at all permissible in this case.
Would the use of oxo-degradable plastic require any kind of intervention with a view to safeguarding recycling processes, and if so, on which level?
- Bio-based Plastics
Competition with food production, already broadly discussed in the context of biofuels, is a problematic and highly disputed issue for bio-based plastics. A significant increase in bio-based plastics production to a level comparable to conventional plastics might negatively impact on the production of food crops used to make bio-based plastics. This could have a negative impact on developing economies and economies in transition. A link between the rises in corn prices subsequent to the rise in ethanol production 2008 in the US has been documented. An increase in land use and raw material prices might result, as well as a loss of biodiversity through transformation of idle land and forests into fields, increasing agricultural consumption of water and fertilizers. Such concerns would not apply to bio-based plastics made from agricultural waste and food-crops by-products or saltwater algae.
- Biodegradable & Compostable Plastics
… the large majority of biodegradable plastics can only biodegrade under very specific conditions of constantly high temperature and humidity in industrial composting installations and are neither fit for home composting nor do they decompose in reasonable time when littered.
Biodegradable plastics shall be understood as plastics that can be degraded by living organisms – in particular microorganisms into water, CO2, methane (CH4) and possibly non-toxic residues (i.e. biomass).
As regards composting of bio degradable plastics, investment into composting facilities providing sufficient pre-processing and an adequate composting process would be needed.
In the case of oxo-degradable, it looks like an execution. However, they use the words “may” and “might” … residues may have unclear impact; it might contribute to marine microplastics, and it may complicate the recycling process. Logically, some kind of testing by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) should follow to dismiss or confirm those arguments.
In the case of bio-based plastics, serious questions are raised regarding their sustainability and the pressure on food crops and communities.
In the case of biodegradable and compostable plastics, the Commission includes the release of methane in the environment as criteria to define biodegradable plastics. This is remarkable; because methane is one of the most important greenhouse gas and the Commission wants to avoid methane at any cost. It also forgets to mention the toxicity element that may be linked to compostable plastics. It doesn’t mention the reluctance of industrial composters on processing compostable plastics.
The European Parliament will further execute “Oxo”, but promote all the other options.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMPROMISE AMENDMENTS 1-14
The first European Parliament document where the “anti-Oxo” article appears (26/11/2013) is a report called “Compromise Amendment 1-14” published by the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Report called . The rapporteur was no one else than Vittorio Prodi, the brother of Romano Prodi. The rapporteur is extremely influential as he can guide the legislative activities. Here’s the amendment
Believes that the most dangerous plastics, those that are the most disruptive to human health and the environment (such as micro- and oxo-biodegradable plastics) and those which contain heavy metals that can also make recycling processes more difficult, should be phased out of the market or banned outright, as soon as possible before 2020; also believes that, as demanded by a majority of European citizens (and consumers), it is finally time to phase out or ban single-use, nonbiodegradable and non-compostable plastic products, also before 2020;
Oxo-degradable becomes Oxo-biodegradable and the choice of words becomes even harder.
Oxo-biodegradable becomes the most disruptive to human health and the environment … and it makes the recycling process more difficult. What recycling process are they exactly referring to? To the exception of PET bottles, almost no plastic packaging are recycled in Europe.
A majority of European citizens (and consumers), wants to ban non-biodegradable and non-compostable plastics. Seriously? In 2013? Why did they forget to mention non-recyclable plastics at the end? Even today, consumers don’t know the difference between biodegradable and compostable packaging. I wonder if Vittorio Prodi, did the survey during a séance beyond the grave like his brother Romano in the Aldo Moro case?
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE REPORT 6 DECEMBER 2013
The next European parliament document that executes Oxo-biodegradable plastics is the Committee Report (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) on a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment (2013/2113(INI)) dated 6 December 2013. Vittorio Prodi (brother of Romano prodi) is also the rapporteur. This time, oxo-biodegradable is accused of not being in line with the Resource Efficiency Roadmap.
… The plastic types which do not feed into this model , the most dangerous to the environment and human health and those not in line with the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, like oxobiodegradable, micro and single use, should be phased out of the market or banned outright ….
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION 14 JANUARY 2014
The European Parliament Resolution of 14 January 2014 on a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment is the next document. Here, Oxo-biodegradable is accused of being a barrier to develop a market for reused and recycled material.
Believes that the most dangerous plastics, those that by scientific evidence are shown to be the most disruptive to human health and the environment (such as micro- and oxo-biodegradable plastics) and those which contain heavy metals and other substances that can also make recycling processes more difficult, should be phased out of the market or banned outright, as soon as possible before 2020 to in order develop a market for reused and recycled materials, and believes that separate collection of these should be immediately implemented; in this framework, believes that the replacement of dangerous plastic materials and additives should be supported, including through the extension of the restricted substances list in RoHS; also believes that, as demanded by a majority of European citizens and consumers (4) , the use of single-use plastic bags should be radically reduced and where possible phased out, and that it is important to address the challenge of waste prevention through by more efficient action to tackle overconsumption and the irresponsible disposal of single- use products;
ECHA and REACH
Legally speaking, the European Commission and Parliament are supposed to respect the rules. To ban a substance like oxo-biodegradable additives in the EU, you need to follow the procedure set by the REACH regulation. To be able to ban a substance, the REACH procedure sets following conditions:
- the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) must recommend a ban or restriction, and publish a detailed dossier;
- the recommendation must be considered by two committees and a stakeholder consultation.
The European commission started the REACH procedure on 22 December 2017 by requesting ECHA to start an investigation as to whether OXO biodegradable plastics was a source of microplastics.
On 30 October 2018, ECHA concluded that they were not convinced OXO-biodegradable was a source of microplastics.
Instead of listening to ECHA, the European Commission decided to ignore their expert opinion and instructed ECHA to stop their investigation on 30th April 2019. Clearly the expert advice did not suit them.
Anyway, the European Commission takes an “illegal “decision in the sense that it’s an infringement of the REACH regulation.
European Bioplastics and BBIA
Oxo-biodegradable additives and PBAT co-polymer are competing technologies.
The political execution of Oxo-biodegradable is mainly driven by BASF and Novamont who are both prominent members of European Bioplastics and its UK antenna BBIA.
European Bioplastics (EUBP) is an EU trade body representing the interests of compostable and bio-based plastics. Initially, they started as a working group set up by BASF and the German government to promote PBAT.
The boycott of my person and BioplasticsNews.com was discussed and recommended during an official EUBP meeting in early 2020. The reason being that I allowed the Oxo-biodegradable industry to express their opinion on Bioplastics News (Read more European Bioplastics Calls for a Boycott ).
Anyway, the anti-oxo rhetoric is deeply rooted in the EUBP strategy. Here are some screenshot of EUBP documents to prove the case.
Ladies and Gentleman, I can continue for “hours”. I think you get my point.
Initially, I wanted the use another title for this article: the History of the “Anti-Oxo” Cabal.
- Commercial Interests
The real motivation for this “anti-oxo” campaign was commercial; it has never been about the environment. Oxo-biodegradable plastics is a competing biodegradable technology to PBAT produced by BASF. Most of the companies belonging to the “compostable plastics” arm of European Bioplastics use PBAT as co-polymer.
Who is BASF to points their finger at oxo-biodegradable plastics and accuse them of creating microplastics? BASF is the world’s biggest polluter of the chemical industry. BASF was condemned for crimes against humanity during the Nuremberg trials. The company should have been dismantled but wasn’t because of the Cold War context. So who is BASF to throw the first stone?
Any plastics in the open environment will create microplastics. Whether it’s fossil-based, bio-based, recyclable, compostable or biodegradable plastics. The most important source of micro-and nanoplastics in the oceans are synthethic fibres (Polyester). Polyester is usually made from recycled PET bottles. The most important source of microplastics in the soils and food chain are biodegradable and non-biodegradable agricultural mulch films. Symphony Environmental is the most important producer of Oxo-biodegradable plastics additives. The revenue of their d2w masterbatch was around € 8.5 million in 2020 (Symphony Environmental 2020 Results). BASF had a turnover of € 59 Billion in 2019 and is the biggest producer of PBAT. The global PBAT biodegradable agricultural mulch film market is probably worth around € 250 – 500 million.
So what would you ban if marine and soil microplastics was truly your main concern?
- Moral Standards
It’s an act of cowardice when a powerful organisation harms weaker companies and individuals intentionally. It’s a lack of moral standard to use and abuse public affairs and lobbying activities to force smaller competitors out of the market.
It was a wrong strategic choice to start this anti Oxo campaign because eventually it backfired against the compostable plastics industry. Do you really believe that consumers understand the difference between biodegradable and compostable? Look at the EU SUP directive; it also reduced the options for compostable plastics.
- Working Technologies
The anti-oxo advocates claim that Oxo technology doesn’t work. Well, I wonder which plastic end-of-life option is truly working? Recycling? What plastics is being recycled in the EU? Compostable plastics? Which EU industrial composters accept compostable plastics?
- Final Thoughs
How can you promote a sustainable and circular solution through immoral means?
And here is the fundamental questions:
If the BASF technology (PBAT) is really working, why do they need to use this kind of discriminatory and immoral practice to damage their competitors? Anyone who values innovation should be against big companies who try to control the market. Does anyone believe they are campaigning on behalf of the environment?
European Parliament Committee Report 2013 – European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment