Environment: Profile
Environmental Profile of Bioplastics PDF Print E-mail
The bioplastics industry is working intensively on achieving the best possible environmental profile for their products. Life cycle assessment is being utilized to optimise processes and the overall environmental performance of products. The use of renewable resources in the material may offer a major advantage of bioplastics over conventional plastics made from crude oil as far as CO2 emissions are concerned.

Factors such as energy consumption and CO2 emissions in product manufacture, processing and disposal determine the environmental profile of a product. Comparison of the environmental performance of products made from bioplastics with conventional products can only be achieved through a product-related life cycle assessment (LCA) corresponding to the internationally binding

ISO 14040 et seqq. standards. Such an evaluation assesses all the steps in the life cycle of the product, for example raw material production, processing, transport, use and disposal.
 
Bioplastics versus Conventional Plastics PDF Print E-mail

It must however be taken into consideration that a direct comparison of conventional plastic products with bioplastic products may lead to an inappropriate image. Conventional plastics are technically mature, high quantity products (commodities). Bioplastics, on the other hand, are in anearly stage of development, and their production and distribution processes and recycling paths are not yet optimised. The comparison therefore merely provides a snapshot. Disregard for this could lead to over-estimation of the status quo with the consequence that further development of bioplastics could be slowed or halted. Barriers to innovation with far reaching consequences would result.

On the other hand, growth in the market for products made from bioplastics can ensure the financing of the ecological advancement of the technology and the setting up of optimised infrastructure.

 
Environmental and Economical Advantages of Bioplastics PDF Print E-mail
There are many good reasons to support the bioplastics innovation. Environmental aspects are top of the list. Various LCA studies have documented significant savings in the consumption of fossil energy and considerably reduced CO2 emissions for different types of bioplastic products. It is not however possible to make blanket assumptions such as "bioplastics are the more environmentally friendly solution". It is furthermore important to consider the following: Sustainability covers not only environmental aspects but also economic and social components. If jobs, growth markets or global export opportunities develop from innovative technologies such as bioplastics, this is positive both for the economy and the individual. Bioplastics can be produced throughout Europe and will therefore reduce dependence on imports while offering export opportunities.
 
End-of-Life: Recovery Options PDF Print E-mail
Common treatment options for plastic waste are thermal recovery, mechanical recycling and landfill. Bioplastics offer in principle all the recovery options in place for conventional plastics - plus the additional option of organic recycling. However it must be kept in mind that bioplastic applications cover many different products with widely varying specific compositions and product design. The choice of the best, i.e. the most ecological and economically efficient recovery route for bioplastics is dependent on many factors such as the character of the product, market volume, existing infrastructure for collection and recovery, legislation, and last but not least, costs. These factors can differ greatly from region to region and from one application to another. Municipalities and/or private recycling companies, aiming at the most efficient use of the collected waste as a resource, will usually provide a mix of recovery options.
 
Conclusion PDF Print E-mail
It is and will continue to be the task of all parties involved in plastics waste management and of governmental institutions to work out best practice recovery solutions for both bioplastics and conventional plastics.

It has to be kept in mind that bioplastics have only a very small share of the current 50 Million ton total plastics market in Europe. They represent a new material group, which can make use of all the established recovery and recycling technologies for conventional plastics and moreover offer the new option of organic recycling.

There is time and opportunity to develop solutions because bioplastics are still in their infancy with low market volume. Recycling issues should not lead to hampering the development of bioplastics. The focus should be on the establishment of practical solutions for legislation, communication, sorting and recycling technologies, amongst other issues.

Most bioplastic products are composted today and do not interfere with recycling. Composting is and will remain an important recovery route for many short-life bioplastic products.

Thermal recovery processes can handle bioplastics more easily due to their lower demand for purity. Mechanical or chemical recycling represent promising (new) options for some bioplastics, yielding potentially high quality recyclates.

The intention must be to establish eco-efficient recycling systems by making use of all available recovery methods according to the particular product, thereby avoiding negative interference from existing plastic recycling schemes.

As bioplastics volumes are currently very low, methane emissions from bioplastics are not a relevant issue. Bioplastics – and much more importantly, organic food waste - should not however end up in landfill without pre-treatment. Stopping landfill of untreated organic waste, to which bioplastics can contribute e.g. by enabling consumers to collect their organic waste separately in compostable bags, would solve the problem of methane emissions and improve ecology.

 


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