EU study concludes: material choices for products and packaging should prioritise recyclability over compostability

In 2015 the Commission adopted an EU action plan for the Circular Economy to help stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. The growing number of plastic products and packaging marketed as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘(home) compostable’ raises the question of the extent to which biodegradability and (home) compostability of plastic is beneficial in the context of the transition towards a circular economy. A study by Eunomia assesses possible implications of the use of such products and identifies conditions/applications in which industrial or home compostability of products or packaging could be of added value when compared to reuse and other forms of recovery.

The results indicate that the evidence is weak in favour of any particular agronomic benefit associated with compostable plastic material in compost or digestate and therefore material choices for products and packaging should prioritise recyclability over compostability. Exceptions to this are where the use of compostable plastic have proven ’added benefits’ such as increasing the collection of organic waste and its diversion from residual waste or reduction in plastic contamination of compost.

Industrial composting and anaerobic digestion infrastructure differ considerably across the EU and effectiveness at treating compostable plastic varies even if materials comply with harmonised standard EN 13432 on requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation. Resulting undegraded compostable plasticresidues is a significant risk that cannot be quantified at present.

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