This webinar brought together EU policymakers and stakeholders to discuss opportunities and challenges in developing a policy framework for biodegradable plastics. Held on 16th June 2021, it was attended by 300 people.
The event was hosted by Mohammed Chahim MEP, Co-chair of the Circular Economy Working Group of the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. It is part of a series of events drawing on the SAPEA Evidence Review Report Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment and the associated Scientific Opinion by the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.
An overview of the webinar discussions is provided below.
The welcoming address was given by Mohammed Chahim MEP. He highlighted plastic pollution as a big issue, emphasising the need to understand fully the role biodegradable plastics might play in tackling plastic pollution in the open environment. He underlined the importance of scientific evidence to MEPs in their work.
Professor Ole Petersen, Vice-President of Academia Europaea and Director of the AE Cardiff Hub, provided an overview of SAPEA and the context of the Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment Evidence Review Report, before introducing the speakers and sessions ahead.
Patrick Child, Deputy Director General, DG RTD, drew attention to the vital role played by research and innovation as part of the European Green Deal. He highlighted key work by the Scientific Advice Mechanism and emphasised how the use of scientific advice to inform policy is a core value in Europe.
Kestutis Sadauskas, Director of Circular Economy & Green Growth, DG ENV, also underlined the importance of independent scientific advice to policymakers. He outlined some of the fundamental policy issues around biodegradable plastics in Europe.
Professor Nicole Grobert, Chair of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission (EC), identified the key recommendations of the Scientific Opinion, which will inform the forthcoming EC policy framework related to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics. The Group’s recommendations included a focus on the waste hierarchy; the need for testing and certifications; and clarity of labelling and information.
Two members of the SAPEA Working Group, Dr Michael Sander, Senior Scientist, Research Group Leader and Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry at ETH Zurich, and Dr Miriam Weber, Managing Director of HYDRA Marine Sciences, summarised some of the key findings of the SAPEA Evidence Review Report, which informed the Scientific Opinion.
Dr Sander and Dr Weber reinforced the message that while biodegradable plastics are not a solution to littering and general plastic pollution, they could have a role when used for specific applications, such as geotextiles in agriculture. They emphasised the need to consider the different lifespans required of these products, as some would have to biodegrade over a longer time period than others. Different climatic conditions can also have a significant impact on biodegradation rates.
From industry, Jean-Marc Nony, Director of Sustainable Development, SPHERE group, discussed the potential of biodegradable bags for fruit and vegetables as a viable alternative to conventional products, and proposed an exchange of best practice between European cities on the management of bio-waste. He suggested that the development of bio-based, biodegradable and compostable products could offer the EU an opportunity for leadership at a global level to fight plastic pollution.
Ioana Popescu, Senior Programme Manager, Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), presented an NGO perspective on biodegradable plastics. She highlighted several issues, including the many different understandings of the terminology; ‘biodegradability’ being used as a ‘claim’ on product labelling that could confuse consumers; and the vast range of current standards that should be carefully considered in terms of their benefits and shortcomings.
Reactions from members of the European Parliament
Both Delara Burkhardt MEP and Stéphane Bijoux MEP echoed many of the key messages given by speakers throughout the webinar. Ms Delara spoke passionately about the urgency to address the issue of plastic pollution and to develop a clear regulatory framework. Mr Bijoux called plastic pollution an ‘ecological disaster’, emphasising the need to find innovative solutions.
Discussion and Q&As
The speaker presentations were followed by a Q&A session, in which members of the audience had the opportunity to pose questions to the panel. These ranged from specific questions about biodegradation, to public awareness and policy development by the European Commission.
More information is available in the webinar summary report on the European Bureau for Conservation and Development website.
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AE Cardiff’s role in the Biodegradability of Plastics project
Academia Europaea led the coordination of the SAPEA Evidence Review on the Biodegradability of Plastics in the Open Environment. Responsibility for management and delivery of the work was given to the AE Cardiff Hub. Find out more.
Posted 17th June 2021. For further information please contact AECardiffHub@cardiff.ac.uk