Respect for the environment

François de Bie

The demand for plastics with a reduced carbon footprint for use in packaging is very strong. At Total Corbion PLA we produce biodegradable plastic granules to be used for packaging with just that, a reduced carbon footprint. The resource – sugar, is cultivated in Thailand. The sugar is converted into milk acid from which polylactic acid or PLA granules are made to be used for bioplastics. 60 to 70% of bioplastics are used for the fabrication of food packaging, biodegradable plastics, bags or food service ware. Think about teabags, yoghurt cups, coffee capsules, packages for fresh vegetables or fruit, GFT- bags and coffee cups.

Our PLA is an organically degradable bioplastic. There is a European standard which certifies the degradability of bioplastics, the EN13432. To call your plastic biodegradable and compostable, you need to prove via a lab test that it completely degrades in a commercial composting installation. If so, you are eligible to the certificate – The Seedling. The teabags which are made from our PLA brake down completely after 4 to 6 weeks. The coffee capsules cannot be found anymore after six to eight weeks, in the compost of a composting company.

Except its biodegradable aspect, PLA offers a significantly reduced carbon footprint when compared to traditional plastics. Furthermore, many consumers are interested in organic food, and put a high value on this with respect towards nature. These products are more often packaged in bioplastics than other products: companies want to complete the picture of their brand and the package is an important aspect thereof. The European association provides much information on the topic of bioplastics and equally took care of the logo for the certification, The Seedling. Brussels is occupied putting together the necessary legislation. We are trying with European Bioplastics to seek in what way bioplastics play a role in solving the plastic issue.

As a producer of biodegradable plastics we receive quite some support, but it could always be better. Italy recently put through a law which requires all cups, forks and spoons to be produced with biodegradable plastics in order to reduce the impact on the environment. The Netherlands and Germany are more conversative in making those choices. They are very slow to pass legislations. The Second Chamber, ideally, would prefer if the industry would ‘solve’ the problem on its own, by making biodegradable plastic more popular for the consumers. The slogan ‘a better environment starts with yourself’ is indeed true, but the consumer simply cannot oversee and consider all the available choices. The European Association of Bioplastics made notice of this at the Dutch branch organization. As Holland bioplastics we then discussed it with the Dutch association of waste processers and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and environment and expressed our concerns in a letter to the Second Chamber. In short, I strongly believe that the government needs to take on a leading role in the transition from plastic to bioplastic packaging.

Total Corbion PLA is a 50% daughter enterprise of Corbion and a member of IFFI, ingredients for Food Innovators

François de Bie is senior marketing and supply chain director at Total Corbion PLA as well as chairman of the European Bioplastics Association

This column was originally published in EVMI

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