Biodegradable and biobased materials in the EU
The development of biobased materials and specifically bioplastics is a relatively new and fast developing field. These biobased materials are becoming increasingly important in the larger EU ambition for a carbon neutral, pollution free and circular economy. Within the European Green Deal and many supporting strategy documents, biobased and biodegradable materials are recognized as a key solution for reducing climate change impact, plastic pollution and reducing fossil resource use.
One of the main advantages of biobased materials is that they are produced from a renewable resource. Biobased materials have the potential for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil resource depletion compared to conventional products. However, care should be taken that large scale transition to a biobased economy does not lead to other environmental problems.
- Using biomass can potentially lead to deforestation or competition with food production.
- Using biomass waste flows as a feedstock might be preferable from a circularity or resource perspective but also brings the risk of introducing substances of very high concern in to products.
- Biobased materials are not necessarily biodegradable and could still lead to pollution. In addition to that, even biodegradable materials might still be a source of pollution when they end up in the natural environment instead of composting facilities. Here these materials are not exposed to the right conditions (such as temperature, humidity, etc) that they require for full degradation.
Legislative and regulatory developments
To avoid any negative effects from so-called regretful substitutions, the European Union is continuously working on many legislative developments in addition to the current regulatory frameworks.
EU authorities, such as The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) are reviewing and revising rules and regulations on the safety of substances and articles to keep it up to date with market developments. Since the biobased material field is upcoming and growing, especially obligations regarding those materials may change.
For example, the REACH regulation offers several exemptions on its requirements for certain natural occurring substances or recycled feedstock. These exemptions only apply under strict conditions and when certain data requirements are met. Still, if this is the kind of regulation that should be pursued is still a hot topic for political debate.
Additionally, EU Directives such as the new Waste Framework Directive are currently being implemented at national level, defining targets for waste reduction and recyclability. Especially for biobased materials produced from waste feedstock flows this directive carries significance with regard to the End-of-Waste criteria.
The same applies to the Single Use Plastic Directive and many other new and upcoming Directives and regulations.
At this moment some polymers types are excluded from certain regulatory obligations based on their inherent biodegradability. However, the determination whether a specific polymer is excluded from regulatory obligations is not very straightforward in practice. Secondly, it often excludes polymers that are industrially produced but do have biodegradable properties. For this reason, there are developments to start using biodegradability criteria for regulatory exemptions.
Ecomatters as a navigator through the regulatory landscape
Assessing which regulations apply to your organisation and which regulatory changes can be expected is a challenging task. Ecomatters can support your organisation in identifying relevant regulations throughout the complete life cycle of a biobased product.
Regulatory guidance on feedstock and production:
- Feedstock assessment and REACH SVHC screening in relation to intended use.
- Obtaining an end-of-waste status when the feedstock is a biomass waste flow.
- Applicability of the REACH regulation
- Obligations from CLP regulation
Regulatory guidance related to intended use:
- Packaging and single use disposable products
- Agricultural applications
- Biomass production for biofuel
- Materials intended for food contact materials (FCM)
Regulatory guidance on biodegradability and end-of-life:
- Certifications for products that are biobased or biodegradable (under different conditions such as home or industrial composting, soil, marine)
- Regulatory obligations for products marketed with biodegradable properties
- Considerations from the Waste Framework Directive
- Assessing compatibility with (Dutch) national waste collection and treatment legislation
- ECHA’s proposed microplastic restriction.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
In addition to regulatory evaluations Ecomatters can support you in assessing the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life-cycle of the product. Life Cycle Assessment is a critical part of any sustainability strategy and supports a variety of calculations including:
- Carbon Footprint (CF)
- Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)
- Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)
- Eco-efficiency Analysis (EEA)