THE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS OF USING BIODEGRADABLE AND COMPOSTABLE MATERIALS
Waste disposal is a problem in modern-day society, and products should be designed with at least one recovery option in mind.
Generally speaking, the greater the number of possible “end of life” scenarios, the higher the likelihood that one option will actually be implemented. In addition to “traditional” recovery methods; an extra option, organic recovery, is possible for biodegradable and compostable products. All possible recovery options may be applied to products made with biodegradable and compostable materials. Energy recovery, recycling and organic recovery can be used interchangeably, depending on the regional waste collection systems in place and the waste treatment technology locally available. Biodegradable and compostable products lend themselves to various recovery methods. This is an important feature for those who have the burden and the responsibility of placing products and packaging on the market. Products made with biodegradable and compostable materials meet the essential requirements of the European
Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC) and satisfy the relevant harmonised European standards: EN 13430 (recycling), EN 13431 (energy recovery) and EN 13432 (organic recovery).
Some raw materials have a further characteristic related to the origin of their components; they have 30-50 % biobased content (Proportions Bio-based Carbon vs. Fossil Carbon indicated by 14C content).
The progressive substitution of fossil oil-based products with biobased products is a long term necessity for our society. Fossil oil is a limited resource and its cost is increasing in line with global demand. The use of bio-based raw materials instead of fossil resources in the chemical and plastic industries can help in the control of greenhouse gases (GHG), since these materials exploit the atmospheric CO2 absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. Another positive environmental practice is the separate collection and recycling of organic waste into compost, as compost incorporates carbon in the soil and maintains soil fertility. Each year 52 million tonnes of organic waste (kitchen waste, food scraps, yard waste, etc.) are produced in Europe: their incineration causes immediate GHG emissions while methane (a strong GHG) is released in case of disposal in landfills. On the contrary, organic recovery (i.e. composting, with or without anaerobic pre-fermentation) brings the organic matter back to the soil. Biodegradable and compostable products may be composted, permitting the easy generation of a waste fraction (organic waste plus biodegradable and compostable products), suitable for separate collection, organic recovery and production of high-quality compost for agriculture, with substantial CO2 savings. This feature is important in any scenario in which organic waste may be contaminated by plastic products. Organic waste contaminated with non compostable plastic products cannot be easily organically recycled. Likewise, plastics contaminated with food scraps are difficult to recycle. Use of compostable plastic products enables the organic recycling of mixed waste, as both fractions (plastics and food waste) are biodegradable and compostable.