European Commission urged to act on plastic contamination in biowaste

The European Commission have been urged to legislate on reducing plastic contamination in biowaste ahead of the separate biowaste collection Directive entering into force from 2024.

The Food Waste Collections: Unwrapping the biowaste potential report, presented at the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this month (December 2022), suggests that extracting plastics from biowaste across the EU could, by 2030, add up to €2bn a year to the cost of transforming those wastes into valuable biogas and biofertilisers through composting or anaerobic digestion (AD).

At the event organised by the European Parliament Intergroup on ‘Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development’, David Newman, co-founder of European Circular Bioeconomy Policy Initiative (ECBPI), said: “Mandatory separate food waste collections are due to come into force across the EU from 2024. This leaves little time to ensure that the waste is of the highest quality – by which I mean that it is as pure as possible before it reaches composting and AD installations.

The overwhelming burden on these food waste treatment facilities is the volume of plastics they currently receive in collection systems

“The overwhelming burden on these food waste treatment facilities is the volume of plastics they currently receive in collection systems” he continued. “If the current legislative regime remains, by 2030, extracting plastics from food waste across the EU could lead to additional costs of up to €2bn a year.

“Local authorities collecting biowaste will have to extract those plastics and, with the food waste attached to them which can be more than the plastics themselves, send to incineration or landfill where they would emit harmful greenhouse gases. Reducing this contamination will not only benefit treatment systems, but also soil health (with the use of cleaner biofertilisers), air quality, as well as the pockets of EU citizens”.

“Greater ambition”

With this report, ECBPI calls on the European Commission to act before mandatory separate food waste collections come into force from 2024 and proposes the following measures:

  • higher disposal costs in landfill and incineration;
  • mandatory use of certified compostable bags for collection of biowaste;
  • ban of lightweight traditional plastic bags altogether (as proposed in the PPWR);
  • improvements in the management of compost and AD plants.

The report was presented by MEP Sarah Wiener (Greens) who suggested the importance to European food systems of returning organic substances to soil cleanly, substituting imported fertilisers made with imported gas.

It is endorsed by Zero Waste Europe, the European Environment Bureau, the major composting and biogas associations CIC of Italy and Cré of Ireland, according to ECBPI.

During the conference, Jean-Marc Simon, Director of ZWE, asked the Commission why we cannot make mandatory targets on food waste collection, whilst we have those targets for almost every other waste stream.

Piotr Barczak, lead on waste policy at EEB, asked for greater ambition from the Commission and Parliament especially now the revision of the Waste Framework Directive is due in 2023. Percy Foster, CEO of Cré, highlighted the many plastic items found in food waste collections and called for some of them to be banned (do we need sticky labels on fruit and vegetables?) and some redesigned into compostable plastics that do not impact treatment (bags, sachets, teabags, coffee pods).

Contamination of food waste by plastics and other wastes often exceeds 15% of food waste collected, making any treatment option very costly and with greater risks of plastics being spread to soil with compost.

Authors Dr Enzo Favoino and Dr Michele Giavini from the Scuola Agraria del Parco di Monza, said the use of compostable bags, whether plastic or paper, and door to door collections were “the only way” to ensure high quality and quantity collections.

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