Biodegradable and Compostable Plastic Products

Defects of the EU Single-use Plastics Directive, Why shunning Biodegradable Plastics?

Jul 13 , 2021
The recent entry into force of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive has generated widespread concern. Why is the EU shunning biodegradable plastics? How should China choose? What is the attitude of member states towards this?

1. Why Does the EU Avoid Biodegradable Plastics?

Most of the EU member states are surrounded by the sea, and plastic can easily enter the sea. Over 80% of marine litter is made of plastic, and the treatment of marine plastic pollution is smoothly started from the 10 types of single-use plastic products found on the beach. And biodegradable plastics are difficult for seawater to degrade, which leads them to choose to avoid them.

2. What Is Plastic? Qualifying Who is Banned By Definition?

The EU SUP Directive's definition of plastics includes polymer-based plastic products, bio-based plastics, and biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable plastics are chemically modified polymers, therefore biodegradable plastics also apply the definition of plastics in the Directive and are therefore also banned.

3. Is laminated Paper Packaging Banned?

It was previously interpreted that laminated paper was still allowed to be used as long as the plastic content of the paper was less than 10%.

However, according to the guidelines published on 31 May, wrapping paper is included in the 10 types of disposables and it is clearly stated that disposable paper-based or paperboard-based products with a plastic coating or lining made partly of plastic fall within the scope of the ban of the Directive. As a result, paper bags laminated with PE, PLA, and PBS are also banned from the 10 disposables.

However, the current interpretation or reality of laminated paper is still confusing: the People's Daily, 09 July 2021, 16 edition, reports that the EU will review the bill in 2027, when paper products coated with plasticized film, for example, which can still be used today, could also be phased out of the market.

At the same time, the directive exempts paints, inks and adhesives from liability. Oil-proof paper bags may then be the safer product to use. However, greaseproofing agents with higher greaseproofing levels generally contain fluoride, while food-grade greaseproofing agents need to control fluoride content below the limit, and non-fluorinated greaseproofing agents would be a more desirable direction.

4. When Does it Come Into Effect? Is There Any Possibility of Change?

The SUP Directive comes into force on 3 July 2021. Because of the rapid technological development of biodegradable/biobased plastics, the European Commission is also planning to redefine the application criteria in 2022 and to review the SUP Directive in 2027. However, until the standards are redefined, biodegradable/biobased plastics are subject to the SUP Directive, i.e. banned.

5. Is the SUP Directive Not legally Binding and Must it Be Implemented?

The SUP Directive is only the opinion of the EU Commissioners, it is not legally binding and the power to rule rests with the CJEU. However, the European Commission has proposed that the Directive should be transposed into national law and implemented as of 3 July 2021.

The Directive came into force and the transposition law has been delayed. Even if the transposition law is implemented, it may not be immediately enforced. The situation is as if it were domestic.

The member states may not necessarily follow their words, Italy is very much against it and the German Plastics Packaging Association has criticized the SUP Directive, and there will still be a process of negotiation and compromise in general. However, for products exported to the EU, commercial operators and EU Member State enforcement agencies may refer to these guidelines when interpreting the provisions of the Single-Use Plastics Directive.

6. Which Single-Use Products Containing Plastic Are Banned?

These disposable products are prohibited from containing plastic: light plastic bags, personal/household wipes, cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), lunch boxes, drinks cups/lids/stir sticks/straws, balloons/sticks, drinks bottles/lids up to 3 liters (containing water/juice/milk), bags/paper, cigarette filters, plastic foaming products, sauces or ready-to-eat food packaging (e.g. salad fruit), instant drink packaging, disposable cotton swabs for personal use.

7. Which Disposable Products Containing Plastic Are Not Prohibited?

Exempted disposable plastic products: thick plastic bags, professional medical or industrial wipes, feminine hygiene wipes/cotton, bottles/lids over 3 liters, pre-packaged food that is not ready to eat (e.g. fish/meat trays and uncooked noodles/beans/instant soup mixes), medical/industrial/commercial products. Also exempted are paints, inks, and adhesives.

8. What Is the Logic Behind the New EU Plastic Ban?

The logic behind the European Commission's new plastic ban is all-natural, carbon-neutral, plastic reduction or recycling, avoidance of microplastics, and marine pollution.

The EU is focusing more on developing a circular economy (recycling, reuse) and bio-based sources (reducing carbon emissions). The EU's main focus on recycling and plastic reduction is, it seems, a downgrade for China's development of biodegradable/compostable plastics.

Petrochemical-based biodegradable materials can also be reused as long as they can be recycled, with proven recycling mechanisms in place, and after disposal, they can be used for pavement, etc. They are very versatile.

In fact, single-use plastic products, more often than not, are difficult to recycle or have no economic value for recycling.

In fact, single-use plastic products, more often than not they are difficult to collect and inevitably leak into the environment. So, the EU is not talking about recycling, but about degradation, in the case of 10 common disposable items in sea disasters, such as paper, cellulose, lignin, and starch, which are already present in nature.

So, recycling is very desirable and by pitting recycling against degradation, thinking is usually not on the same page and talking about the same thing.

9. Does the EU Encourage the Use of Paper Products?

The directive does not explicitly encourage which alternatives to using, which is not in line with his idea of recycling. But it is clear that for packaging, the most desirable alternative at the moment is paper products. Europe is rich in forest resources, but the environmental pollution from paper manufacturing is more serious than petroleum-based.

10. On the Road to Banning Plastic, Why are China and Europe Going in Opposite Directions?

EU society has developed to the point where it can already harvest a large wave of profits by exporting technology, and there is no need to sacrifice the environment for development. Coupled with high labour costs, its homeland has developed to the point where it is not suitable for the development of large-scale chemical projects.

At this stage, China is still in the demographic dividend period, with more than 40 years of manufacturing capacity and infrastructure advantages, the development of large chemical industry to form a scale effect and reduce costs is to be expected.

11. How Should I Choose Between Carbon Enhancement, Carbon Sequestration, and Carbon Reduction?

PBAT is a petroleum-based source, still increasing carbon, from the carbon-neutral target, and can not reduce carbon. But not all of them can lean towards carbon reduction. Environmental pollution control is also very important and has been included in the Central Ecological Protection Inspectorate.

PLA and PHA are bio-based sources, which are carbon sequestrated and do not produce new carbon from the material transfer link.

PPC is the idea of carbon reduction, polymerizing carbon dioxide into plastics.

12. What Are the Consequences of Using Paper Products Globally?

If the world were to replace single-use plastic products with paper products, it would be a huge disaster for forests. If China also goes the EU route and uses a lot of paper-based, bio-based and recycling, especially in bio-based sources, it will again be crushed by Western technology. One wave of leeks after another will be cut.

For the moment, in plastic pollution control and carbon emissions to strike a balance between, biodegradable plastic is not lost for the more ideal choice.

13, PE Bags, Non-Woven Bags, Paper Bags, Biodegradable Bags, Who is More Environmentally Friendly?

Recently, in the Plastic Association of the degradable plastic special committee on disposable plastic PE bags, non-woven PP bags, paper bags, biodegradable bags for LCA assessment, non-woven bags need to be reused for a long time to achieve the purpose of environmental protection, otherwise, it will cause greater environmental pollution.

And paper bags, whether from energy consumption or emissions are no advantage. Compared to disposable plastic bags, the energy consumption of paper bags is 3.4 times that of disposable plastic bags, and emissions are 1.94 times that of disposable plastic bags. The only advantage of paper bags is that they are made from renewable pulp, but the energy consumption of the paper industry is also very polluting. Therefore in the future, the use of paper bags may also be gradually reduced.

14、How Should China Choose?

China Plastics Association degradable plastic special committee article that the future trend of China's bags or in biodegradable plastic bags. In the Ministry of Science and Technology "fourteen five" national key research and development plan in biodegradable plastics as a key development area, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the "fourteen five" circular economy development plan also requires the active and steady promotion of biodegradable plastics, these are proof that the country will further All these prove that the country will further promote the application of biodegradable plastics in order to achieve the requirements and targets of the carbon-neutral policy of the carbon peak.

15. Note

This paper focuses on disposable plastic products, i.e. products that are single-use, difficult to recycle, or costly to recycle, and if it extends to non-disposable plastic products, they are not discussed in this paper.
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