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tascabili dell ’ ambiente

Edited by Walter Ganapini

bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy A smart chemistry for a smarter life in a smarter planet Foreword by Corrado Clini Italian Minister of the Environment Introduction by Catia Bastioli President of Kyoto Club

tascabili dell’ambiente

Edited by Walter Ganapini

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Edited by Walter Ganapini

bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy A smart chemistry for a smarter life in a smarter planet Foreword by Corrado Clini Italian Minister of the Environment Introduction by Catia Bastioli President of Kyoto Club






executive summary


Corrado Clini, Minister of the Environment Catia Bastioli, President of Kyoto Club

part 1 bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy 29

Walter Ganapini

1. the environmental context


2. italian measures on carrier bags, and their impact 39 3. the anti-crisis potential of biodegradable bioplastics




part 2 documents


1. abstract from “report on the italian packaging industry: packaging statistics 2012�


2. abstract from “the structure of the bubble film extrusion sector”


3. abstract from “urban waste report 2012”


4. abstract from “technical report 2012”


5. abstract from “green chemistry observatory – attitude of the italian public to the new bio-carrier bags”


6. abstract from “final report of the working group biodegradable packaging recovery project”


7. abstract of the results of “the gionha project (governance and integrated observation of marine natural habitat)”


8. abstract from “plan of strategic development of the italian green chemistry cluster”


9. abstract from “review on marine biodegradation of compostable carrier bags”


10. abstract from “biobased and biodegradable carrier bags. is competition between bioplastics and food a real issue?”


executive summary

In January 2011 a law was passed in Italy aimed at reducing the environmental contamination caused by traditional plastic carrier bags. As a consequence, thick, “long life” reusable carrier bags and biodegradable, compostable single-use carrier bags (conforming to the harmonised CEN Standard 13432) are now the environmentally-friendly alternatives available to consumers and retailers. This initiative builds on a series of legislative measures introduced in Italy since the late 90s, in order to address the management of waste in compliance with the Waste Framework Directive and the Landfill Directive. This strategy has limited the number of single-use carrier bags in circulation, reduced the risk of littering and its consequences on the environment, improved the quality of organic recycling and the conditions for growth of the market for bio-based products, acting as a primer for new investments in the ‘Bioeconomy’. The shift towards the bioeconomy was recently recognised by the European Commission through the adoption of a dedicated Strategy outlining the need for Europe to move towards a post-petroleum society in order to respond to the key societal challenges the world is set to face in the coming years.


bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy

The European Commission has also emphasised the pivotal role of bio-based products and market development in the context of the review of the EU Industrial Policy. On 4 February 2013 France outlined the intention and willingness to follow the Italian model and favour as well biodegradable and compostable bags given the potential that this measure would have in triggering the creation of local value chain dedicated to the production of bioplastics. This book intends to illustrate how the strategy pursued by the Italian Government aims to protect the environment, trigger investment in the bioeconomy in line with EU guidelines, and to achieve several societal benefits in terms of waste prevention and consumption patterns among the general public. Thin single-use carrier bags are considered a clear case of overpackaging all over the world. They are mostly used just once, which is a waste of resources and can lead to a litter problem. Carrier bags are airy, and tend to fly away and disperse into the environment, as shown by several studies. Bags are the highest-ranking of the “top 10” marine litter items, as reported in the UNEP Report “Marine Litter: A Global Challenge”. They are strongly resistant to biodegradation and tend to build up in the marine environment if not properly disposed of. In the long term, plastic bags are fragmented by the mechanical erosion caused by waves and marine currents, leading to the formation of microscopic fragments (the so-called “plastic soup”). The toxic chemicals present in the sea tend to be adsorbed by the plastic fragments and concentrate on them. Because the microscopic plastic fragments are swallowed by fish and marine

executive summary

mammals as if they were plankton, there is a real risk of toxic chemicals entering the food chain, carried by the plastics fragments themselves. The first step in preventing this major environmental problem is to identify the origin of littering. Several studies have indicated that waste found in the sea originates either from land, and is carried by rivers, or from navigation. Therefore, preventive measures must be applied not only along the shoreline but also in the inland areas. Due to its peculiar hydrogeological structure (with more than 8,000 km of coastline), Italy, which lies in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, is strongly affected by marine litter caused by plastic bags, as demonstrated by several studies. Plastic carrier bags contribute to the deterioration of the environment in a very fragile country in which tourism is also an important economic resource. Plastic carrier bags are also a problem in the organic recycling of biowaste (kitchen and garden waste). Organic recycling is well established in Italy, thanks to clear legislation on compost quality and separate waste collection (Italy is the second-largest compost producer in Europe, with 4.2 million tonnes of municipal organic waste converted into high quality compost every year). The problem is that, whenever bio-waste separate collection is in place (and this is an unwavering trend in Europe), the use of plastic carrier bags is critical, because they are not biodegradable. The organic recycling of biowaste requires plastic-free streams in order to assure high recycling rates. Plastic carrier bags are not “multi-purpose� waste bags, but contaminants of biowaste.



bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy

Worldwide, all these factors have generated a series of initiatives intended to reduce the consumption of single-use carrier bags. Many retailers, committed to reducing their businesses’ environmental impacts, have tried to move towards more sustainable solutions. Specific legislation has also been introduced in some countries in order to speed up this shift in consumption habits, and various new laws have has been announced. In Italy a strategy was launched in 2011 aimed at eliminating the use of thin, non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags, leaving on the market only durable thicker plastic and compostable single-use plastic bags conforming to the harmonised European standard on compostable packaging (EN 13432). The Italian approach to single-use carrier bags can be considered an important case study, the results and implications of which should be fully assessed. The first lesson is that consumers are ready to change their habits quickly in order to adopt more sustainable behaviours, following a law promoting packaging prevention. Italians have been encouraged to adopt behaviours that have a positive impact on waste management. A study has shown that the use of single-use carrier bags dropped significantly (by 50%) after the strategy was enforced. Second point is that the fewer single-use carrier bags in circulation, the lower the risk of littering. Therefore, the restriction of single-use carrier bags helps litter prevention. Fewer resources are consumed, less waste needs to be recovered, and less pollution is produced. Third point is that only biodegradable, compostable carrier bags can still be sold by Italian retailers as single-use bags, as a com-

executive summary

plementary tool, together with the reusable bags. The use of compostable carrier bags is having very interesting consequences: (I) There have been improvements in biowaste collection and recycling. After their first use, biodegradable compostable carrier bags can be re-used as “multi-purpose” waste bags and are suitable for collecting residual waste (any waste that cannot be separated before collection), and for biowaste (e.g. kitchen waste). This is usually well communicated to consumers, using catchphrases such as: “use and re-use for the separate collection of waste” and similar slogans printed on the bags which become a vehicle of education. This approach is improving the quality and quantity of biowaste collection and recycling. Fewer nonbiodegradable plastics are contaminating compost. The risk of a non-biodegradable bag being improperly used to collect biowaste is eliminated if the householder only receives biodegradable compostable bags. This in turn improves the quality of organic recycling and brings important environmental benefits. Plastic-free, high quality compost maintains the fertility of the soil from which bioplastics originate, in a virtuous “cradleto-cradle” (or, strictly speaking, soil-to-soil) loop. This effect has been demonstrated in specific studies: impurities have decreased by 8% and as a result compost is less contaminated by plastic waste. From a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) viewpoint, this means substantial reductions of up to 30% in greenhouse gas emissions, mainly linked to the saving of the energy needed to recover and dispose of the plastic scraps. (II) The new Italian law has turned out to be an interesting example of positive action supporting the bio-economy. Innovation needs a proper “landscape”, namely framework con-



bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy

ditions that favour the development of the industrial/commercial process, and the market uptake of innovative, sustainable niche products. There is a need for smart, sustainable, inclusive legislation that provides comprehensive solutions for different problems. The market pull created for biodegradable and compostable carrier bags has resulted in an opportunity for a newly developed industrial chain, and has fostered innovation and development of the bioeconomy (the replacement rate of traditional carrier bags with compostable ones was 8% in 2010 and 28% in 2011). The EU capacity for biodegradable polymers has reached more than 200,000 tonnes, and new upstream integration initiatives are now in progress, with the aim of building up a range of demonstrators and flagships for building blocks. Three privately financed flagship plants for biodegradable monomers, are under construction, while two polymer synthesis sites have been converted in Italy. The obsolete ENI petrochemical site at Porto Torres (Sardinia) is currently being redeveloped into a biorefinery for the production of bioplastics, biolubricants, biofillers and additives with the development of local pluriannual crops grown on marginal and contaminated land. All these industrial ventures represent a case study on how specific legislation in a highly critical niche market can support solutions that are highly innovative from an economic, environmental and social viewpoint. Moreover, with a view to maximizing the interaction of coherent policies with a cross cutting approach, in September 2012 the Italian government sponsored the creation of a Public Private Green Chemistry Cluster. (III) The law has encouraged the Italian public to adopt views and behaviours that are more attentive to the environment

executive summary

and waste management. Recent surveys show that most Italians (94%) believe that the law is an important milestone for the environment, while 88% recognise that biodegradable compostable plastics are an important innovation capable of triggering multiple positive effects (i.e. green attitudes, new green jobs, etc.). A negative flag of pollution has been turned into a precious tool for separate collection, available to communities, with less public money required to start up or maintain the separate collection of organic waste. (IV) Compostable bags are biodegradable in the natural environment. The new law has in fact reduced the risk of littering, because consumers are encouraged to prefer durable bags. Fewer single-use carrier bags are placed on the market; those that are marketed are compostable and after first use can still be used as multi-purpose waste bags. There is no reason to drop a useful item as litter. In the event that the carrier bags reach the sea anyway, they are effectively susceptible to biodegradation, as recent studies are showing. The data in the book demonstrate that prevention, the top priority in the European waste policy, can be easily achieved for carrier bags, with several positive effects for society and consumers. Plastic bags can still circulate freely in Italy, on condition that they are thick enough to make them durable, i.e. reusable. Thin single-use carrier bags can potentially contaminate the natural environment by disintegrating into plastic fragments and disrupting biowaste recycling; however, they can be substituted by a more sustainable solution: durable, reusable carrier bags, and the single-use biodegradable compostable carrier bags. This is an attempt to mitigate a major environmental problem,



bioplastics: a case study of bioeconomy in italy

by improving waste management and recovery and supporting the growth of a solid European based bioeconomy. This objective can be obtained without placing any stress at all on food production, since the land use for the 100 billion carrier bags consumed in one year in Europe is only 0.05% of total arable land in Europe. Moreover, the development of integrated local biorefineries in Italy is showing how the use of local crops grown on marginal and contaminated land in combination with local byproducts is a key tool to establish synergies with the agricultural world with a view to revitalising and restarting production in certain areas, while respecting the ecosystem and the local biodiversity. Italy is building on a strong bioplastics sector, which thanks to the new law has managed to reach a market of significant size, triggering private investments in new plants and demonstrators, leading to new jobs and local growth in areas critically affected by the current crisis.

tascabili dell ’ ambiente

“The biodiversity of Nature, together with the multiplicity and diversity of human enterprise, is a guarantee for an harmonious growth: a growth model based on integrated systems, the concept of cascading, local integrated biorefineries, and a quest for technical solutions that imitate Nature by integrating physics, chemistry and biology”. Catia Bastioli, President of Kyoto Club

walter ganapini, chemist, a pupil of Vincenzo Balzani, Assistant of

Umberto Colombo at ENEA, he was President of the National Agency for the Protection of the Environment and Member of the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency, where is now an Honorary Member. In the course of his career he covered with passion environmental policies, soil protection and waste management.

Bioplastics: A case study of Bioeconomy in Italy