Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP, UK) believes that introduction of biopolymers should be done in a way which can demonstrate benefit to the environment. Pending a full life cycle assessment, it is likely that a benefit will be demonstrable in the following circumstances:
- Products using the new materials are designed to minimise the amount of material used;
- Use of the material provides improved performance or technical benefits e.g. a reduction in food waste;
- It is compostable – and preferably home compostable. Packaging should be certified as compostable and conform to EN 13432;
- It is clearly identified and differentiated from oil-based polymers;
- Users of the material are fully informed about how to distinguish it from other polymers and enabled to dispose of it appropriately at end of life;
- Practical arrangements can be made for the collection and appropriate treatment of the new materials; and
- Considering applications where established recycling systems are not in place.
The principal risks arise at the end of life phase. Instead of being composted, biopolymers may find their way into the recyclables stream which would increase the cost of recycling or prevent it completely. Alternatively biopolymers could be added to the residual waste stream and increase the biodegradable waste sent to landfill, making it harder for the UK to meet its legal waste obligations and increasing the amounts of methane gases generated. WRAP has identified the following priority activities which it will pursue with other interested parties:
- Development of standard “branding” and messaging for products using these materials to aid separation;
- Identification of technologies for separating polymers of different origins;
- Development of guidelines on the treatment of biopolymers in waste collections for composting;
- Development of a home composting standard;
- Life Cycle Assessment where appropriate;
- Publication of clear technical advice on biopolymers.