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Research and innovation

Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment

Criteria for assessing the environmental benefits of biodegradable plastic applications

About the topic

Can biodegradable plastics help reduce plastic pollution?

This scientific opinion examines the conditions and criteria under which biodegradable plastic applications can be beneficial for the environment, and provides advice to inform decisions by society, consumers, businesses and policy makers. A growing global use of plastics has led to an increased amount of plastic waste in the environment, polluting and harming land and marine ecosystems. Biodegradable plastics could be part of the solution to this problem, but they also present challenges. Biodegradability depends not only on the properties of the plastic material itself, but also on the environmental conditions. Many biodegradable plastic products only actually biodegrade in certain specific environments, or only in industrial composting facilities, rather than in the open environment more generally.    

The opinion published in December 2020 recommends limiting the use of biodegradable plastics in the open environment to specific applications for which reduction, reuse, and recycling are not feasible, rather than as a solution for inappropriate waste management or littering. To realise the potential environmental benefits over conventional plastics, it recommends supporting the development of coherent testing and certification standards. It also identifies a need to promote the supply of accurate information on the properties, appropriate use and disposal, and limitations of biodegradable plastics and their applications to relevant user groups.   

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