European Commission launches public consultation on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics aiming to prepare for policy framework; goal of new framework is to address sustainability challenges related to their use

Sample article from our Government & Public Policy

January 21, 2022 (press release) –

Today, the European Commission has launched a public consultation on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics. The consultation will provide insight for preparing a new policy framework on these groups of plastics. The aim of the new framework - a key deliverable of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan is to address emerging sustainability challenges related to the use of the biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics and by driving innovation, enhancing investment certainty within the internal market and increasing environmental protection.

Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:

Biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics have the potential to bring advantages over traditional plastics. However, we need to thoroughly assess if these plastics deliver on their promises, and under what conditions. We also need to bring clarity to the market so consumers and businesses can easily understand the differences between these plastics.

Biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics currently make up 1% of the global and European plastic market, with an overall expected growth of 5–8% between 2020 and 2025. At present, these types of plastics are predominantly used for specific packaging and agricultural purposes, offering advantages like biodegradability or compostability.

The consultation follows the publication of the roadmap that outlines the objective of the framework – to address the emerging sustainability challenges related to the use of these plastics. Specifically, it maps the following policy areas to be explored:

Policy area 1: The sustainability of the biological feedstock used to produce biobased plastics

Using biological feedstock instead of feedstock made from fossil fuels can help reduce the environmental impacts of plastics across the whole life-cycle. However, the full life-cycle environmental impacts need to be considered - including land use changes, biodiversity and climate impacts, and littering. At present, no EU sustainability criteria apply to these plastics, while consumers expect them to be fully sustainable.

Policy area 2: The effective biodegradation of biodegradable and compostable plastics and their role in a circular economy

These plastics can only deliver environmental benefits if their biodegradation can be verified by means of standards. Whilst European standards exist for some media such as industrial composting, no European standards exist for biodegradable plastics in other conditions, such as the marine environment. In addition, the circular economy and ‘waste hierarchy’ principles suggest only using these plastics for limited, specific purposes for which reducing, reusing and recycling are not feasible or desirable.

Policy area 3: Widespread confusion

Although these plastics have many similarities, they also have many differences. Consumers and users of these plastics do not currently have access to clear and trustworthy information when buying or disposing of these plastics. Labelling can only help when it is clear and complete. Furthermore, if these plastics are disposed of incorrectly, it could lead to cross-contamination of waste streams and therefore less plastics circularity.

The consultation is published on the DG ENV website and is open for feedback for 8 weeks until 15 March 2022. The Commission services will take feedback into account when preparing the policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics, expected to be adopted in summer 2022.

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