As a part of its plastic strategy, the European Commission supports bioplastics. Introduced as a up-and-coming sector, in being a carrier of environmental and economic benefits, they are actually far from being green. Not only they do not solve the pollution issues but also, they are new risks holder for the oceans and waterways.
Bioplastics, great saviour of the environment?
The necessity to keep fossils fuel away to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions lead governments and the industry to look for other raw material resources than oil for plastic materials. The European Union, which defined its plastic strategy in entering into a reflection about the circular economy, is no exception. The circular economy package that has just been voted for includes the amendments giving advantages to the famous “bioplastic” developments.
Before the spread of these bioplastics to reduce marine plastic pollution, Surfrider goes into action next to other NGOs to affirm its opposition to what seems to be a decoy. Indeed, most of these plastics are not as ecological as industries confirm.
Surfrider warns again confusions that can occur between biodegradable plastics and “plastics” made from biomass, also stated as organically sourced, and against fantasies and false hopes they set off. Organically sourced does not necessarily mean biodegradable, and inversely.
Why Surfrider sets against the bioplastics spread?
The plastic environmental impact discarded is correlated with the time required for their complete decomposition. The biodegradability, in other words the material metabolism conversion into carbon dioxide, water and humus, is measured through standardized tests.
To accord recognition to a material as biodegradable, it must reach 90% of biodegradation in less than 6 months as a part of industrial compost. In the bioplastic case, the norms commonly used by suppliers and distributors do not guarantee the degradation in a domestic or natural habitat, even less in the marine environment which gather extreme conditions (low light, lack of oxygen, etc.) but in an industrial environment. The fact to highlight these norms to ensure these derivations’ biodegradability is misleading for the consumers.
Furthermore, several studies have shown that the citizens tend to throw the products stated biodegradable in the environment in believing that they naturally degrade, with no repercussions on it. For these reasons, even though over 80% of aquatic wastes are in plastic, the biodegradable plastics do not turn out to be a sustainable solution to the marine pollution problem. In proposing to substitute conventional plastic by other kind equally polluting for aquatic environment to the detriment of prevention and reuse, Europe goes wrong again.
For Surfrider, it is clear that the bioplastics do not represent a particular magical solution enabling to reduce the plastic overconsumption, moreover the pollution. If they can be a part of the search for a solution the lesser evil under certain conditions, the European Union priority must be to reduce plastic production to the source as well as to improve their eco-design to enable their reuse and put a stop to the one-use only. In order to achieve the first target, only a stated political of prevention and awareness could bear fruits in the long term. The ban of unnecessary and one-use only containers and packaging as well as the reprocessing collect and development seem also essential with time.
For all these reasons, Surfrider will continue to make its positions heard on the waste and plastic topic all year long, within the reflection started by the European Union concerning the circular economy.
The positioning axis selected are:
- To give priority to the prevention on our plastic consumption reduction by limiting the one-use only plastic, apart of the plastic raw material origin or their biodegradability.
- To develop the recycling and bioplastic treatment solutions in prioritising the current collecting and recycling systems, but also in avoiding the use of chemicals and dangerous substances.
- To evaluate the bioplastic impact on the environment during its life cycle, including the consequences of the plastic raw material substitution, from the fossil fuel to the biomass which could lead to additional CO2 emissions in the environment.
- To examine the pertinent norms and keep a close watch on their use to clarify the information provided to the consumers.
- To require a strict legislation on bioplastic marketing concerning their commercialisation, including the biodegradable ones. These must never be announced like “being biodegradables in the environment” in order not to be thrown away.
- To define durability requirements juridically restrictive for the bioplastic production to minimise the social and environmental negative externalities.
- To ensure a coherence between all the European legislations linked to these topics (Circular economy, wastes, plastic, packaging, marine environment protection, etc.)