Biobased plastics in a circular economy. Policy suggestions for biobased and biobased biodegradable plastics

This study, requested by the Ministry of Environment and Infrastructure and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, provides the foundation for further policy development regarding biobased plastics. Environmental aspects were explored for a wide range of biobased plastics. Conclusions were drawn related to the greenhouse gas balance, the use of (natural) resources, the influence on litter and plastic soup, and the options for end-of-life treatment.

Biobased plastics can contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and the demand for fossil resources, when substituted for the fossil counterparts. They do, however, require the use of natural resources (e.g. land, water). Therefore, CE Delft recommends sustainability criteria as a prerequisite for all policy regarding biobased plastics. Biobased plastics can be either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. CE Delft recommends incorporating the latter in recycling schemes to minimize virgin resource input and optimize environmental performance. Policy should only stimulate biodegradable biobased plastics for use in applications in which the biodegradability has 1) a functional benefit or where the risk of unintentional disposal is high, e.g. agricultural and horticultural applications, or 2) a co-benefit, for example increased collection of food wastes and less contamination in the food waste recycling system. Biodegradable biobased plastics cannot solve the litter problem; degradation rates are too slow. When used in products which release micro plastics in the use phase, soil and marine biodegradable plastics may help reduce the plastic soup problem.

The overall conclusion is that biobased plastics can play a vital role in a sustainable circular economy. Together, a high recycling rate and the substitution of the remaining inputs by sustainable biobased resources provide an attractive vision for a sustainable future. Nine policy suggestions are given which would help steer the development of biobased plastics in that direction.