Encouraged by the European Commission, a consortium of manufacturers has voluntarily committed to using environmentally friendly polymers in the packaging sector with the intention of guaranteeing an efficient biodegradability standard for their products. If successful it is hoped that this initiative may also stimulate other sectors to undertake similar action.
The Environment Agreement (EA), which takes the form of a unilateral self-commitment by industry, is designed to ensure the maintenance of an internationally recognised standard for the biodegradation of polymers produced from both renewable or fossil resources.
As there is currently no legislation planned by the Commission in this area, the unilateral self-commitment represents a voluntary pro-active measure by the industry. The Commission's vice president for enterprise, Gunter Verheugen said: "I warmly welcome this commitment. We are actively encouraging such initiatives by the private sector. They are an alternative to 'hard' legislation, which is a central element of the Commission's zeal to regulate in a better and simpler way."
The manufacturers committed to the EA include BASF, Carghill Dow, Novamont and Rodenburg Biopolymers. Between them these companies represent over 90% of the European market for biodegradable plastics and have a similar share of the current global market. The self commitment will be managed by the International Biodegradable Polymers Association & Working Groups (IBAW).
The benefits of the commitment are said to include: product safety for consumers and industrial users by harmonising the standards to which these materials are produced; economic added value by encouraging the development of new polymers with high standards for biodegradability and compostability, thereby increasing EU international competitiveness and environmental performance though the improvement of soil and water quality resulting from the production of high quality compost, and social needs by providing farmers who produce renewable raw materials (RRM) with additional sources of income, thereby securing their jobs and strengthening rural economies.
According to the EA proposal, the specific use of RRM such as corn, potato, wheat and other carbohydrate sources as feedstock for the production of RRM-based polymers can give the final products advantages in terms of reduced environmental impact. However, the real benefit of RRM-based materials is their biodegradability and compostability when used for packaging.
At 38% the packaging sector has the largest consumption of biodegradable plastics in Western Europe and the Commission hopes that the development of biodegradable and compostable polymers will open up new avenues for waste management and recycling.
Under the agreement manufacturers, converters, producers and users of biodegradable materials have committed themselves to a systematic use of EN 13432 to ensure biodegradability and compostability, as recommended by the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. They must also submit their packaging products for certification by an independent body and label their packaging products with a specific symbol for the benefit of customers, retailers and other stakeholders.