MO.3.D || Addressing Marine Litter Within Life Cycle Assessment and Management

Mense, Marco

Companies are increasingly looking at Bio-based and Bio-degradable plastics as the solution to reducing climate impact and littering. As a result, there is a growing variety of “bio”-plastics on the market today. Switching to bio-based and bio-degradable alternatives can have a positive environmental impact, such as a lower GWP and less fossil resource use. However, as the EU steadily transitions towards a circular or closed-loop economy, the objective becomes to retain materials for as long as possible, reusing and recycling it to minimize waste. From this perspective it is less clear if the substitution of conventional polymers with bio-degradable alternatives is as advantageous. Of course, it is vital to make the differentiation between bio-based, biodegradable, compostable, and oxo-degradable as they mean very different things with different implications for their respective end of life scenarios. However, a clear definition for Biodegradable plastics is still missing. ‘Biodegradable’ is a term that has no official definition or requirements. Even polymers marketed as compostable according to EN 13432 often only degrade in industrial composting facilities. As such it is arguably not a solution for reducing the littering of plastic in the natural environment or fulfilling the targets resulting from the EU single use plastics directive. Additionally, in contrast to the conventional polymers, for many biobased and bio-degradable polymers there are currently no options for mechanical or chemical recycling available. The lack of proper definition and honest communication, often misleading brands, retailers and consumers can easily lead to so-called regretful substitutions hampering the progression to a fossil free economy. The LCM presentation is to be devoted to identifying the current obstacles for successful substitution of conventional fossil-based polymers with bio-based and/or biodegradable replacements.