Health & Science

Greenpeace Italy denounces the ‘scam of compostable plastics’

Greenpeace Italy considers there is state greenwashing as it promotes disposable and compostable plastics that actually end up in inadequate waste recycling plants, incinerators or landfills.

Waste recycling plant in Italy
Separation between organic waste and different foreign materials in a waste recycling plant in Italy | © Greenpeace

Cutlery, plates or rigid packaging made of disposable compostable plastics can be disposed of together with organic waste in Italy.

But the investigation unit of Greenpeace Italy argues 63% of this bioplastics waste is sent to recycling plants that are not able to treat compostable plastics. They are therefore discarded and end up in incinerators or landfills. The rest is sent to composting sites where they will usually remain not long enough on-site to degrade, according to Greenpeace Italy.

Bioplastics are made partially with natural polymers deriving from sugar cane or corn for instance and can be labeled as compostable.

Greenpeace blames Italy for promoting compostable plastics without the adequate capacity to recycle it.

Compostable plastics need to have a specific treatment as it’s neither totally plastic nor entirely organic. Stefanie Siebert, executive director of European Compost Network, a non-profit organization promoting sustainable recycling practices, says that “compostable plastics in Europe usually end up compromising the plastics supply chain, or go to landfills or incinerators”.

But unlike Italy, countries like Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom don’t ask to dump rigid bioplastics in organic waste disposals.

Moreover, tests in a laboratory so that those products can be labeled as compostable don’t replicate the real conditions of compostable plants. The issue with compostable plastics “happens because of plants that are not always adequate, but also because of the obvious disconnection between what is required to obtain the certifications on compostability and the real conditions in which the plants operate,” says Greenpeace Italy.

For Giuseppe Ungherese, Greenpeace pollution campaign manager, “we are in front of state greenwashing, which turns into a scam against the community.” He notes that Italy “promotes single-use compostable plastics” while “the rest of Europe is moving toward solutions based on the dematerialization of packaging and the use of durable and reusable products.”

Europe has a quarter of the world’s production capacity of compostable plastics. The European leader of the industry is Novamont, an Italian company. Novamont has more than 600 employees, a turnover of 287 million euros ($303 million) in 2020, operates in more than 40 countries and “obviously has considerable interests in promoting bioplastics,” alerts Greenpeace.

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