C2 Background
In search of bio-based plastic: two EU research projects cooperate

09.07.2021 Since 1 July 2021, many single-use plastic products have been banned in the EU. A step that, according to the scientific community, is already making a major positive contribution against plastic waste in the sea. The EU is taking a further step with two research projects that are looking for alternatives to plastic – and should enable clear criteria for biodegradability.

Sustainability strategies for bio-based plastics – BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE and SEALIVE are cooperating.
© Photo: @stux – pixabay.com
Sustainability strategies for bio-based plastics – BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE and SEALIVE are cooperating.

Now the two European projects BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE, coordinated by the University of Applied Sciences (HAW) based in Hamburg, Germany, and SEALIVE, coordinated by the Instituto Tecnológico del Embalaje, Transporte y Logística (ITENE) in Valencia, Spain, have met online with EU representatives to exchange knowledge.

Online event

The topic of the online event of the two EU-funded projects at the end of June was "Opportunities and limits of EU policy for biobased and biodegradable plastics". Dr Silvia Maltagliati, policy officer of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research & Innovation, and around 75 participants from the EU and the two projects were present.

Maltagliati gave insights into EU research and innovation policy, explained the definition of bio-based plastics in the EN 16575 standard and emphasised the European Commission's interest in promoting biodegradable plastics. She pointed out the need to develop a regulatory framework that sets clear and precise criteria for the definition of biodegradability and compostability. Referring to the EU Plastic Strategy 2018, she underlined the EU's ambition to change the plastic economy in a sustainable way: "No more single-use plastic products should be produced, instead we aim for a circular economy."

Prof Walter Leal, coordinator of BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE at HAW in Hamburg, presented the five bio-based plastic prototypes that have been developed so far in his project and are now being tested by various partners. He also reported on the status of the safety protocol for bio-based plastic products, which aims to ensure the safe use and end-of-life management of bio-based and biodegradable plastics. Leal: "In this way, we want to help in a very concrete way in the fight against plastic pollution."

Challenges on the way to a circular economy

The benefits of the circular economy and the difficulties that have to be overcome on the way to it were explained by Dr Miriam Gallur, SEALIVE coordinator at ITENE in Valencia: "It's important to define the biodegradability aspect precisely to ultimately enable consumers to make more sustainable choices." Dr Andrew Farmer, SEALIVE member at the Institute for European Environmental Policy in Brussels, stressed the need to present consumer information in an understandable way, but this is problematic: "Recyclability and compostability are very complex and ultimately depend on local waste management systems." Jill Adams from the Prospex Institute in Brussels, a member of BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE, explained how stakeholders from consumer organisations and environmental NGOs to municipalities and waste management to packaging and consumer goods manufacturers are involved in the ongoing projects: "We organise regular workshops where representatives from the whole bio-based value chain are informed about the state of research and give their assessments and input."

The European research projects BIO-PLASTICS EUROPE and SEALIVE have been cooperating since April 2021 to exploit synergies for the production and use of bioplastics. Both projects develop sustainability strategies and solutions for bio-based products and thus support the EU Plastics Strategy. The aim is to explore closed-loop technologies and end-of-life solutions to develop sustainable bio-based plastics to reduce waste and pollution on land and in the oceans.