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Germany Bans SUP Straws and Food Containers

Germany is banning the sale of single-use plastic straws, cotton buds and food containers, bringing it in line with a European Union directive intended to reduce the amount of plastic garbage that pollutes the environment.

The Cabinet agreed Wednesday to end the sale of plastics including single-use cutlery, plates, stirring sticks and balloon holders, as well as polystyrene cups and boxes by July 3, 2021.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said the move was part of an effort to move away from “throw-away culture.” Up to 20% of garbage collected in parks and other public places consists of single-use plastic, mainly polystyrene containers.

Plastic takes decades to degrade and microscopic particles have been found inside the bodies of fish, birds and other animals.

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OXO Biodegradable Vs Compostable Plastics

Let’s look at the similarities and differences between OXO biodegradable (Oxo-bio) and compostable plastics.

The purpose of this article is not to say which technology works better, but to understand both technologies better by comparing them. Compostable plastic is a big family so I may reduce the scope to PLA and PBAT when needed.

  • Applications

OXO-bio plastics and compostable plastics such as PLA and PBAT can be used for similar applications such as bags, packaging and mulch films.

  • Carbon origin

Most compostable plastics are biobased (PLA, PHA, PBS, PBAF). However, some are fossil-based such as PBAT and PCL.  OXO-bio plastics are usually fossil-based but the masterbatch can be mixed with bio-based polymers such as Bio-PE for instance.

  • Nature

OXO-bio is not a plastic resin on itself. It’s a catalyst to reduce the molecular weight of ordinary PE and PP to make them biodegradable.

Compostable plastics are plastics (resins) on their own and it’s possible to blend (mix) them with other compostable plastics (resins). PBAT and PLA can be blended together, and both can be blended with starch for instance.

  • Production and Brands

OXO-bio masterbatches are produced by a dozen companies worldwide. The market leader is  Symphony Environmental who market their masterbatch under the brand “d2w”.

PBAT is produced by BASF. They sell it pure under the brand “Ecoflex” and blended with PLA under the brand “Ecovio”. Novamont sells that same PBAT/ PLA blend under the brand “Origo-bi” and the PBAT/ starch blend under the brand “Mater-bi”.

  • Marketing Claim

OXO-bio are marketed as a solution to littered plastics. Plastic should not end up in the environment, but unfortunately recyclable plastic are not always collected and recycled. OXO-bio is a kind of plan B or insurance policy in case plastic ends up in the open environment.

Compostable plastics are marketed as a primary solution, a kind of alternative to recycling. Compostable plastics provide an industrial end-of-life solution to deal with plastic waste.

  • Waste Management in reality

Neither Oxo-bio and compostable plastics are sorted, collected or processed separately. Both have a high chance to end up incinerated in which they are no better or worse than ordinary plastic; with the exception of PLA that emits less toxic fumes than regular plastic when incinerated.

They may also end up on landfills. Oxo-bio will be inert in anaerobic conditions, while some compostable plastics such as PLA will generate methane.

OXO-bio can be recycled with the normal PE or PP waste streams. Plastic recyclers cannot be sure that plastic waste is free from contaminants and will usually add stabilisers if they want to make recycled plastic resins for long-term applications.

PLA is recyclable in theory. It can be mechanically recycled on its own or may be chemically recycled with other plastics. However, it’s hard to recycle PLA alone: there’s too little PLA in circulation and it’s too dispersed. Chemical recycling doesn’t exist on an industrial scale at this point-in-time.

  • End-of-life

Both OXO-bio and compostable plastics are end-of-life options for plastics. OXO-bio will biodegrade in the open air, in the open environment.  Compostable plastics like PLA will degrade in a controlled environment, a composting facility, where the degradation process is started by a human intervention.

  • Residue

OXO-bio and compostable plastics both claim that the biodegradation process will transform their plastic into CO2 (90%), water and biomass.

The biodegradation time frame is different. Compostable plastics degrade in a time frame of 2 to 6 months in an industrial compost. OXO will degrade in a timeframe of 1 to 3 years in the open environment.

In both cases, bacteria and microorganisms consume the plastic and the microorganisms breathe out the CO2. The degradation of compostable plastics releases the CO2 in the atmosphere much faster than OXO-bio. OXO-bio releases the CO2 much slower; so the CO2 has time to be absorbed by the vegetation.

Eventually, the bacteria die and the resulting biomass are the “dead bodies” of the microorganisms. Compostable plastic calls this biomass “compost”. The biomass resulting from the biodegradation of compostable plastics is not compost in the etymological sense of the word but more in the functional sense of the word: it’s referred to as compost because the process takes place at a composting facility. OXO-bio doesn’t claim to produce compost.

  • Degradation Process

In both cases, biodegradation has two phases.

Both technologies start with an “abiotic degradation” phase. The goal of this first phase is to reduce the molecular weight of the polymer to enable microorganisms to digest it. Microorganisms do not play a role in this phase, that’s’ why it’s called abiotic.

The abiotic phase is started by oxygen (oxydative, OXO refers to oxygen) in the case of OXO-bio and can be accelerated by U/V light and /or heat.

In the case of compostable plastics, it’s usually water/moisture that causes the first phase. It’s a hydrolytic degradation (hydrolysis). The degrading phase of PLA can also start with high temperatures. You can see the deformation of pure PLA on a hot summer day for instance. It will “melt” in the sun…the molecular structure will degrade to say it bluntly.

Both technologies have a biotic second phase which is similar but with a different timescale. Bacteria and other microorganisms start eating the residues. Water is released in the process, the microorganisms breath out CO2 and they die to form the biomass.

  • Problems 

Both technologies face problems.

The EU SUP directive bans “OXO degradable plastics” but does not distinguish between oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable. Technically speaking, OXO-bio has a second phase that is “biotic” so it would be more etymologically correct to refer to it as “OXO biodegradable” plastics.

There has been an anti-OXO campaign for many years.

OXO Technology has been accused of causing microplastics.

PLA is accused of using food crops (corn, sugar cane) in the production. Technically speaking, it’s only the 1st generation PLA that uses food crops.

There have been court decisions and jurisprudence that disallowed PLA to be referred to as “fully biodegradable”or “leaving nothing behind” as it is misleading as PLA will only biodegrade in an industrial composting facility.

Most industrial composters are not in favour of compostable plastics such as PLA or PBAT because it takes too long to compost and the biomass should not be referred to as compost as it makes the soil more acidic and contains microplastics.

  • Representation

OXO-bio is represented by the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA) worldwide. Compostable plastics are represented by European Bioplastics at EU level, BBIA in the UK and BPI in the US.

  • Business and Industry

OXO-bio is quite a small industry with around a dozen small companies. Symphony Environmental is the only quoted company and it produces around 70 % of OXO-bio masterbatches. The worldwide OXO-bio market is approximately worth between € 15 to 50 million.

Compostable plastics is a much bigger industry, with big companies. PBAT is produced by BASF (world’s largest chemical company). PLA is produced by Nature Works ( a joint venture between “Cargill” and a Thai state-owned oil company “PTT”) and Total-Corbion (a joint venture between French oil company “Total” and Dutch biotech company “Corbion”). The worldwide compostable market is approximately worth between € 1 to 3 Billions.

  • Certifications

The OPA certifies products as “OXO biodegradable” if you can provide a report from an independent laboratory on successful testing according to American Standard  ASTM D6954 or British standard 8472 or similar standards.

There are two certificates relating to compostable plastics. “Seedling” and “OK compost”. Seedling is owned by European Bioplastics and OK compost is owned by TUV Austria (ex-Vincotte). Din Certco and TUV Austria are certification bodies authorised by European Bioplastics to award the compostable labels “Seedling and OK compost”. The Seedling label refers to and is in compliance with European standard EN 13432. The OK compost label doesn’t refer to the European standard.

  • Geopolitics

OXO-bio technology has a strong British accent. The technology was invented in Britain, the leading producer is British and the OPA is based in London.

Compostable plastics have a strong German accent. Compostable plastics started as a German industry (PBAT and BASF). European Bioplastics used to be a German association called IBAW (Interessengemeinschaft Biologisch Abbaubare Werkstoffe – Interest Group Biodegradable Polymers). European Bioplastics is probably the only EU association based in Berlin instead of Brussels. Din Certco is a German organisation and TUV Austria is an Austrian organisation.

  • History

OXO-bio was the first to market “biodegradable plastics”. Compostable plastics came after.

  • Efficiency

Which one is more efficient: (1) PLA or PBAT in an industrial composting plant or (2) OXO-bio in the open air? The PLA and PBAT will eventually disappear after one or two months in the composting facility. It will take OXO-bio one to three years to biodegrade in the open environment.

  • My Personal Experience

I have published critical content about OXO-bio. Nobody made a complaint. I have published “very” critical content about recycling. Nobody made a complaint.

I have written ( a few years ago) that “I didn’t believe PBAT mulch films were compostable” ….. I was approached by the Vice-President of a German company who told me … “Nobody from the industry (*) will work with you anymore.” (*referring to members of European Bioplastics)

This is Intimidation and a threat. This is also cowardice because he wouldn’t have threatened a New York Times journalist … but who cares about a little blogger, right? Eventually, since that day I haven’t worked with almost any members of European Bioplastics…coincidence or not!

I wrote to another Vice-President of that same German company to share my story and concerns. They didn’t reply. You know what I think: poor corporate ethics and lame code of conduct!

It reminds me of what my first boss told me in the beginning of my career; he was an Englishman working for an American company.

“Our company is listed on the stock market. We’re regulated. We have to respect our shareholders and stakeholders, our behaviour has to be impeccable. Irreproachable!”

You don’t buy ethics or gentlemenship. You have it or you don’t.

In the meantime, a few members of European Bioplastics have asked me not to allow OXO-bio spokespersons to publish content on BioplasticsNews.com … as if there was some kind of omerta.

My answer was clear: “We shouldn’t exclude someone because of their ethnic origins, religious or scientific beliefs. It’s against our “right of opinion” and “freedom of expression” not to allow someone to express himself or herself publicly because he or she is a representative from a particular industry, sector or technology.”

We’re not in the 1930s; this ain’t Nazi-Germany! Everyone has the right to speak, every one has the right to work, everyone has the right to make a living, everyone has the right to live with dignity. I shall not be part of a kabal against a minority.

What about: OXO is a source of microplastics and should be banned!

Is this a farce? You think a € 25 million industry is the greatest source of microplastics?  You want to stop microplastics seriously? Then you ban the use of synthetic fibres in textiles. You ban the downcycling of PET into polyesters. You regulate the use of plastics nets in fisheries; you ban the use of plastics in agriculture, etc. Oxo comes at the bottom of the list. But hé, you don’t ban the big guys, right? No kabal against them! To be honest, compostable plastics are as much source of microplastics than OXO-bio if not more!

Banning OXO and the anti-OXO campaign is not based on a sincere environmental concerns. It’s a smear campaign that finds its root in commercial interests.

In memory of all the great people who have fought to give us “right of opinion”, “freedom of speech” and “protection of minorities”…. I won’t be part of this kabal!

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Chemical Recycling Europe Position on EU Waste Policy

Although the “10 priorities to transform EU Waste Policy” developed by various European Union (EU) NGOs and associations points at ambitious directions for the waste policy that Chemical Recycling Europe generally supports, restrictions mentioned in Priority 9 represent missed opportunities to improve the current waste and recycling system, leading to some inconsistencies between priorities. We would like to provide some clarification on chemical recycling to refine Priority 9.

Chemical Recycling Europe supports many of the priorities mentioned in the NGO’s joint statement:

Priority to favour waste prevention and reduction as well as reuse in full alignment with the EU Waste Hierarchy.

Priority to prevent shipping of plastic waste to non-EU countries, especially if they do not have the necessary infrastructure, to stimulate recycling and recycling infrastructure in the EU and to avoid pollution elsewhere.

Most Advanced Technology to Measure Plastic Polymer Biodegradation

Priority to encourage the creation of plastic products that follows the principle of the waste hierarchy. This implies support for eco-modulation and measures to incentivize increased amount of recycled content in plastic products, and more generally, in a circular design. The purpose of which is to stimulate the demand for recycled content and circular materials. On this basis, we support an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) expanded to other groups beyond packaging and WEEE.

Priority to clarify the definition and framework for chemical recycling.

We would, however, like to bring some elements of clarification related to Priority 9 regarding chemical recycling:

Symphony Wins Battle of Words with Compostable Plastics Industry

  • I. Chemical Recycling is circular by definition: Chemical recycling represents an overarching category composed of different technologies that aims to close the material loop by converting plastic waste currently not recycled into high-quality products.

These recycling techniques (sometimes described as Upcycling or Advanced Recycling) reflects the essence of what circularity is by enabling the direct replacement of virgin material with its identical quality and properties.

They, for instance, enable the inclusion of recycled content in food-grade applications. These various technologies convert polymeric waste in different value-added materials like monomers, naphtha, syngas, waxes and etc.

Chemical recycling takes on a clear circular approach as the definition of chemical recycling excludes energy recovery: “Chemical Recycling is defined as any reprocessing technology that directly affects either the formulation of the polymeric waste or the polymer itself and converts them into chemical substances and/or products whether for the original or other purposes, excluding energy recovery”.

  • II. Input characteristics should not be restricted: The input of chemical recycling has very little value compared to the input of mechanical recycling. Therefore, chemical recycling input naturally falls into a category that tends to be contaminated and/or degraded.

We, however, fail to see the reason for restricting chemical recycling to contaminated and degraded plastics.

Some plastics are more complex and some do not represent a stream economically viable for mechanical recyclers and therefore this restriction prevents the possibility for these plastics to be recycled. Opening broader plastic waste streams to chemical recycling would enable more plastics, that are currently not being recycled, to be recycled and would therefore complement current efforts made by mechanical recyclers.

  • III. Input origin should not be restricted: Saying that the input should not come from a separate collection, would mean that chemical recycling would not be able to capture the rejects from mechanical recyclers, which represent a significant amount of plastic waste.

In addition, mechanical recycling is also not able to recycle some separate collected waste streams e.g. EPS, LDPE,… Therefore, we ask what the best recycling alternative would be for those separate collected waste streams rather than chemical recycling?

On the other hand, in addition to new plastics, the output of chemical recycling can be used in the production of a variety of materials which might bring more value than plastics and therefore the output should not be limited to new plastics.

Furthermore, unwanted plastic waste of a larger variety can be transformed into alternative oils, waxes, and solvents.

This also results in a reduction of crude oil as a raw material and creation of necessary and useful materials for various industries.

  • IV. Restrictions lead to inconsistencies with Priority 10: Restricting the input characteristics and origins for chemical recycling would be inconsistent with Priority 10 phasing out waste incineration.

Given that the plastic waste going to chemical recycling would otherwise be sent to Energy-from-Waste, the restrictions above imply that you implicitly favour this waste going to Energy-from-Waste.

This represents a missed opportunity to recycle the plastic waste coming from the rejections of mechanical recycling (and therefore from separate collection) or a waste stream technically or economically difficult to recycle by mechanical recyclers.

  • V. Chemical recycling targets a new demand: Chemical recycling specifically targets the demand for virgin-quality recycled content that mechanical recycling can fulfil only for PET and HDPE for a few cycles under strict conditions (for now, and we hope that innovation will enable more!). It targets a circular product and demand that currently cannot be fulfilled.
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Praj and Lygos Partner on Lactic Acid Technology

As part of this MOU, Lygos will provide its proprietary yeast platform to Praj for jointly developing into various solutions for commercial applications.

Praj has already developed and offers bacterial fermentation technology to produce lactic acid and downstream products from sugary feedstock.

Lactic acid is also used in food and beverages, in cleaning agents as well as in the electronic industry.

Most Advanced Technology to Measure Plastic Polymer Biodegradation

The global lactic acid market size is estimated at around $1 Bln USD (2019).

Lygos will provide its innovative and high-performance technology, LP1 Ultra™ Yeast Platform and Carbon Sequestration Superhighway™, which is well suited to produce acid compounds.

Praj will assemble other segments of technology backed up by its expertise in process development, optimization, design scale-up and will further integrate lactic acid as a source material in to making Bioplastic, called as Polylactic Acid (PLA).

Symphony Wins Battle of Words with Compostable Plastics Industry

Demand for PLA acid is ~ 200, 000 tons/year, which is expected to increase substantially in the near future. PLA is an appropriate solution to replace single use plastics and reduce the burden on the waste disposal system.

Due to its unique characteristics, PLA offers an improved replacement for many applications. Rising consumer awareness with respect to the need for recyclability, green packaging, and sustainability is driving significant demand globally.

Unlike conventional plastic, PLA does not take decades to degrade, and as such, reduces adverse environmental impact.

Pramod Chaudhari, Executive Chairman of Praj, said,

“True to its vision to make the world a better place, Praj continues to deploy advanced technologies to produce sustainable products. Our focus over the past three decades on environment, energy and agri-process industry complements global efforts to mitigate climate change and is in tune with global circular bioeconomy. We are happy to work with Lygos to co-develop their advanced yeast platform to produce highly valuable organic acid to offer our customers a better opportunity while supporting rural economy. I am confident that this association will open opportunities for both of us in the global renewable chemicals & materials industry.”

Eric Steen, CEO of Lygos, stated

“We are pleased to partner with Praj and the Praj Matrix team whose deep expertise spans commercialization, engineering, and scale-up, construction and operation of similar industrial processes. This is an exciting time where the world’s demand for sustainable, safe products not produced from toxic petroleum continues to grow. We believe our LP1 Ultra™ platform will complement the Praj team’s goal in the lactic acid marketplace. We look forward to accelerating the technology commercialization through this partnership,”

Both companies will jointly pursue identified commercial opportunities globally to establish a leading position in compostable polymers.

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