Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment

Growing global use of plastics has led to an increased amount of plastic waste in the environment, polluting and harming the land and marine ecosystems. Biodegradable plastics could be part of the solution to this problem, but they also present challenges. Biodegradability depends not only on the properties of the plastic material itself but also on environmental conditions. Many biodegradable plastic products only actually biodegrade in certain specific environments, or only in industrial composting facilities, rather than in the open environment more generally.

In December 2020, the European Commission published ‘Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment’, a report outlining the opinions and recommendations of a group of scientific advisors to support the European Commission Directorate-General for Environment.

The Scientific Opinion report is informed by a SAPEA Evidence Review Report and recommends limiting the use of biodegradable plastics in the open environment to specific applications for which reduction, reuse, and recycling are not feasible, rather than as a solution for inappropriate waste management or littering. To realize the potential environmental benefits over conventional plastics, it recommends supporting the development of coherent testing and certification standards. It also identifies a need to promote the supply of accurate information on the properties, appropriate use and disposal, and limitations of biodegradable plastics and their applications to relevant user groups.

The full report is available to download from the Publications Office of the European Union HERE.

Published 09/06/2021 | Last edited 09/06/2021

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