FAQ about the environment and nature conservation
Bio-plastic: deceptive package for a clear conscience?
A lot has happened in the packaging sector in recent years. In particular, biodegradable plastic packaging - so-called bio-plastics - is booming and is considered THE environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum-based plastics. In the meantime, more and more voices are accumulating that see the supposed solution as a problem. You can find out more about this in our blog post.
The proportion of biodegradable packaging material is increasing. Some innovations are certainly to be welcomed, other innovations are rather questionable. The latter also includes biodegradable or compostable plastic. Because the new packaging does not help reduce waste. Quite the opposite. For many composting plants, plastics represent an additional expense that has to be laboriously sorted out. According to the Federal Environment Agency, bioplastics are therefore more of a deception than an environmentally friendly packaging alternative.
Bio-plastic: Challenge for composting plants
Biodegradable or compostable means that the plastic can be decomposed by microorganisms or fungi. This degradation only takes place under certain conditions. Under no circumstances should you dispose of such packaging in organic waste or on your home compost heap, as different humidity and temperature conditions prevail here. The material does not simply break down, but must be composted according to standards. A study by German Environmental Aid (DHU) shows that it is not that easy. Even industrial composting plants often cannot compost bio-plastics in accordance with standards.
Organic plastic does not belong in organic waste
In a survey by Deutsche Umwelthilfe, 95% of respondents stated that their composting facility does not compost products made from biodegradable plastics in accordance with DIN EN 13432. For 80% of plant operators, bioplastics represent disruptive factors that affect the composting process and thus the quality and marketability of the compost. They are therefore sorted out and disposed of separately (e.g. burned), which is complex and expensive. Many German municipalities therefore prohibit the disposal of bioplastics in organic waste.
An example of this is the bio-plastic PLA (Poly Lactic Acid), which is currently often used for plastic bags, coffee-to-go cups or disposable tableware Since there are currently no sorting and recycling processes for it, it cannot be composted. The problem: Consumers often choose the supposedly environmentally friendly alternative with a clear conscience. Of course, it would be much better if they simply avoided disposable items and opted for reusable alternatives instead. According to the Federal Environment Agency, disposable paper bags do not perform any better than conventional plastic bags.
Bio-plastic: Negative effects on the environment
But even if the composting plant can process bioplastics, further problems arise. The biodegradability of the packaging materials is tested under laboratory conditions. These are highly optimized and cannot be compared to real composting systems. According to the DIN EN 13432 standard, it is also not necessary for the materials to be 100% degradable. A 90% breakdown of the plastic into pieces smaller than two millimeters within 12 weeks is sufficient to be considered compostable. Thanks to this regulation, there is a risk that the smallest plastic particles – so-called microplastics – will increasingly end up in the environment.
Bio-plastic made from renewable raw materials: The better alternative?
When we talk about bio-plastic, that doesn't always mean that it is biodegradable. Plastics that are based on renewable raw materials (e.g. from corn or sugar cane) are also referred to as “organic”. In this sense one often speaks ofbio-based. The materials usually say “bioplastic made from renewable raw materials”. However, plastic made from renewable raw materials is not automatically biodegradable. In addition, petroleum-based plastics are sometimes mixed in and it is not uncommon for the material not to be 100% made from renewable raw materials.
Bio-based plastics are not more environmentally friendly either, as their production often uses a lot of energy. If the raw materials used come from monocultures, the ecological balance is particularly poor. Since cultivation usually requires a high use of pesticides and fertilizers, they endanger biodiversity or lead to soil acidification. Bio-based plastics are therefore no more environmentally friendly than petroleum-based packaging, according to the Federal Environment Agency. It would be more resource-saving to use residual or by-products from agriculture and the food industry. This could improve the ecological balance of bio-based plastics in the future.
When you hear the words “100% compostable, sustainable and CO2 neutral” you should be suspicious. Don’t believe misleading slogans and rely on reusable alternatives. Many packaging made from bioplastics do not have any ecological advantages compared to conventional plastic and actually cause other problems. For this reason, we at Nutri-Plus For the time being, we would rather focus on a closed recycling cycle than on the compostability of the product packaging. We use 100% recyclable cans - some of them are also made from recycled material.
- www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen /bags made of bioplastics are not an alternative
- www.duh.de/presse/pressemitigungen/pressemitigung/studie-der-deutschen-umwelthilfe-bioplastik- Preparet-kompostwerken-grosse-problems/