Will Compostable Plastics Become Next-gen Products to Reduce Plastics Pollution? Challenges and Considerations for Stakeholders
Perhaps no other material is as ubiquitous as plastics in influencing the directions of the manufacturing sector for industrialized nations worldwide. The sheer range of products that plastics can be melted for and the geometries that can be shaped into makes the material a truly versatile one in lives of consumers. Despite the technology trends that have swept the formulation of new-age plastics in the compostable plastics market over the past several decades, the environmental impacts that they continue to pose bring forward a volley of questions for policy makers, industrial players, and end users. The carbon footprint—particularly the greenhouse gas emissions—that is conventional plastics are responsible for through the value chain, that is, from production to disposal, has attracted enormous criticisms—both by governments and the consumers globally.
The array of new-age plastics has been steadily expanding depending on various factors: broadly, into the raw material used and the ways plastic products can be disposed and treated, including after end-of-life treatment. Compostable and biodegradable, and bio-based conventional plastics have opened up incredible avenues for chemical companies and businesses in end-use industries in promoting their sustainability quotients. Amusingly, the drive for compostable plastics market has stemmed from both the economics of production as well as undeniable impacts that littering of plastics products have had on environment.
Products in compostable plastics market are being viewed with enormous optimism in solving the problem of plastic pollution, including the repercussions of low recycling rate of plastics due to various reasons. In contrast to conventional plastics or those made from fossil fuels. Though, biodegradable, compostable, and bio-based plastics refer to different of materials, they share the common of biodegradability into salt, CO2, mineral salts, new biomass, and water in a specified period of time. Unarguably, this seems an oversimplified way to understand the properties of compostable plastics. The biodegradability of compostability depend mainly on the environments they are put into after their use. Without doubt, this aspect has become more crucial than ever for investors and pioneers in the compostable plastics market.
Standards and Labelling in Compostable Plastics Market Vary, Need to Make Customers Aware
Currently, certifications, and labelling for consumer products made from compostable plastics vary a lot even in the most developed compostability plastics markets. While in some cases, the certifications and logos on products for compostability are clear and straightforward, in others, there is lack of standards. Labelling for industrially compostable plastic products has risen over the years. Interestingly and surprisingly for consumers at large, a number of products on which labelling for biodegradability is printed on their packaging can be composted only in industrial environment; this is possible entirely when they are separately put into the reactors. Oftentimes, practical considerations and a pervasive lack of awareness in the compostable plastics market make this difficult to achieve.
A case in point is the lack of standards in Europe for biodegrading the products in well-managed composting conditions at home. This, experts point out, defeats the purpose of compostable plastics. A number of plastic barrier bags made from compostable plastics that are frequently composted in home conditions don’t paint a clear picture to regulators. Another interesting concern is lack of regulations for compostable plastics that can biodegrade in soil, freshwater, and marine water. Both these aspects present a significant lacuna in regulatory frameworks in the compostable plastics market, hence need urgent addressing.
Of note, in Europe and some parts of North America, the change has begun. Subsequently, the past few years have seen gradual changes in consumer behavior about how to perceive labelling and how to dispose of the products based on those. To this end, awareness-raising campaigns such as in India and Germany have a done a lot in addressing these. This has enriched the value chain of the compostable plastics market landscape. This certainly has incentivised packaging companies and other end-use industries to promote labelling pertaining to biodegradable and compostable plastics.
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To circumvent the problems, need a multifaceted approach, and the future course of direction of the compostable plastics market needs to take into account into these. On one end of the spectrum, industry players notably municipalities and waste collectors are working concertedly to adopt better waste management practice and are keenly improving the bio-waste treatment infrastructure.
On the other side of the spectrum, composable plastics producers are extensively researching on how finding processes that will make these a truly compostable plastic in variety of environments. More important, industry players are not stopping at composting the products but working toward turning composable plastics into useful products.