Biodegradable plastics need to be clearly labelled, in order to enhance consumer awareness and help distinguish compostable plastics from other non-compostable polymers, according to a paper by the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
The conclusion comes as ISWA publishes a paper examining the different types of biodegradable plastics, their properties and their role in the management of organic wastes.
Written by the association’s working group on biological treatment of waste, ‘Biodegradable Plastics: An Overview of the Compostability of Biodegradable Plastics and its Implications for the Collection and Treatment of Organic Wastes‘ specifically focusses on composting and anaerobic digestion processes.
The paper explores the detrimental impacts of plastic wastes on land and water ecosystems issues caused by plastics waste and how they can be mitigated. Many plastic wastes are released into the environment every year, presenting multiple risks to fauna and, ultimately, to human health. Notably, every year, millions of tonnes of litter end up in the oceans worldwide, turning it into what the paper calls ‘the world‘s biggest landfill’. This has significant negative effects on marine biodiversity, on the economic potential in the tourism and fisheries sectors, and on the benefits of coastal populations. Land-based sources account for up to 80 per cent of marine litter and are particularly a result of sewer overflows, lack of public awareness, inappropriate waste management collection and treatment infrastructure, and tourism related littering.
Within Europe the policy initiative ‘Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe’ includes proposals for revising waste legislation and for an aspirational target to reduce marine litter by 30 per cent by 2020.
Low-cost conventional plastic products therefore do not reflect the total cost of their environmental burden. Biodegradable plastics are viewed by many as providing more ‘environmentally friendly’ alternatives to these traditional (non-biodegradable) plastic polymers; however, they too have both advantages and disadvantages. The paper explores some of these issues, using background information supplied by ISWA members and experts in selected countries.
The paper concludes that there is a need for biodegradable plastics to be clearly labelled, so to enhance consumer awareness and help distinguish compostable plastics from other non-compostable polymers. It explains that there is the possibility to develop a globally recognised label based on the ISO standard.