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Scientific research shows: bioplastics compost excellently in Dutch composting facilities

12 | 02 | 2020

Haaksbergen, February 12, 2020 – The publication of a scientific report from Wageningen University & Research has provided the long-desired clarity regarding the compostability of bioplastics. The research has shown that compostable bioplastics compost at least as well as conventional organic waste that is thrown away in the green waste bin (In this press release, bioplastics only refers to compostable bioplastics). Wageningen University & Research writes in its press release: “Compostable plastics can easily be processed with organic waste. No remains of compostable plastics were found in the compost.” Bioplastics therefore do not contribute to soil pollution with plastics. The results of the research are therefore an important impetus for the broad use of bioplastics with a co-benefit (see explanation below) and their acceptance in organic waste.

What is meant by co-benefit?

Various publications about bioplastics talk about co-benefit, but what does this mean? The co-benefit of packaging refers to the fact that more organic waste is collected when products are packaged in bioplastic packaging or when a compostable product contributes to less pollution of the compost. For example, organic waste bags that are reused to throw away more organic waste that remains during preparation in the organic waste bin. Or fruit stickers that do not need to be removed from the compost. 

Extensive research puts an end to discussion about compostable bioplastics

The Waste Management Association and Holland Bioplastics have been debating the compostability of bioplastics for several years. An important stumbling block was the question of whether bioplastics compost so well that they can be thrown away as organic waste. The Waste Management Association believes that bioplastics do not compost sufficiently quickly, while Holland Bioplastics believes that bioplastics, which are provided with the seedling logo that indicates that a packaging or product complies with the EN-13432 standard, compost just as well and quickly as all other waste. that can be thrown away in the organic waste bin. To put an end to this discussion once and for all, the Waste Management Association and Holland Bioplastics have asked Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to conduct scientific research into the compostability of bioplastics.

The research

At the beginning of 2019, WUR conducted research at Valor in St. Oedenrode, one of the 21 composters in the Netherlands where organic waste is processed. For this trial, the Waste Management Association and Holland Bioplastics have selected a number of compostable bioplastic products, in which both organizations see a potential co-benefit. These products, together with ‘normal’ collected organic waste, enter the usual composting process. During this process, organic waste composts in cycles of 11 days in an environment where humidity and temperature are controlled. Often several cycles are required for the organic waste to completely decompose into compost. The results of the test were as Holland Bioplastic had hoped and expected and confirmed the compostability of bioplastic products.

Bioplastics are easily compostable in Dutch composting facilities

The tested products confirm the compostability of bioplastics. Wageningen University & Research says in its press release about the research: “It is striking that PLA products break down faster than, for example, paper and orange peels and could no longer be recovered after an 11-day composting cycle.” The other products (organic waste collection bags, plant pots, tea bags, coffee pods, coffee capsules and fruit labels), just like the orange peels that were added as reference material, needed two cycles of 11 days to compost. The bioplastic products had subsequently deteriorated to such an extent that they met the compostability standard both visually and in terms of fraction size. This can be called a particularly good result, especially when it is taken into account that much waste that can be thrown away in the organic waste bin needs more than two composting cycles to break down into compost.

Bioplastics contribute to the production of more and cleaner compost

The results of the WUR research demonstrate the qualities of bioplastics when it comes to the end-of-life phase of the material. Bioplastics provide more and cleaner compost. These co-benefits in combination with the compostability make bioplastics an excellent material for various products and packaging. Naturally, we must determine the best end-of-life option for each product or packaging: composting or recycling. However, when talking about the role of bioplastics in a circular economy, we must also consider the rest of the life cycle of bioplastics. In many cases, bioplastics are made from renewable raw materials, so they are not dependent on fossil raw materials and have a lower CO 2  footprint. In addition, the qualities of bioplastics in practical use are not inferior to traditional plastics and they are an excellent alternative for various packaging and products. All in all, we can conclude that a circular economy without bioplastics is unimaginable.