The circular economy of composting

The days of single-use plastic products are numbered. To stop the worldwide flood of plastics into the oceans, disposable plastic tableware will be banned in the EU start- ing in July 2021. As for catering on film sets, it is no longer possible to use plastic plates and tableware. But disposable tableware made from biodegradable or bio-based plas- tics, advertised as environmentally friendly, sustainable, or 100 percent compostable, often has a life cycle assessment no better than fossil fuel-based plastics.


According to the DIN EN 13432 standard, products are compostable if at least 90 percent of the material breaks down into parts smaller than two millimeters within a twelve-week period. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that these plastics are biodegradable either in the environment or in home composting. Oxo-degradable plastics decompose into fragments and remain as microplastic in the environment. Among the biodegradable plastics is PLA, but there are also bio-based plastics made from renewable materials such as bam- boo, palm leaf, and sugar cane, whose cultivation and processing require a great deal of land and water consumption, the use of pesticides, and transportation, which also leaves a high carbon footprint.


The EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive fosters sustainable business models, reuse possibilities, and surrogate materials. An innovative solution has been created by the Hamburg-based company Bio-Lutions, which is using agricultural plant waste to manufacture eco-friendly single-use products that contain no chemical additives or binders. After the opening of their first factory in India, this patented process will also be introduced in Germany. In the 1,800-square-meter production facility in Brandenburg, compostable packaging made from regional agriculture waste products such as colza and wheat straw, hemp and hop will roll off the line.


During this upcycling procedure, plant waste is processed into extremely fine fibers. Self-binding microfibrillated fibers emerge, and by adding water they condense into a fibrous pulp, which, under the application of heat, can be pressed into multifaceted forms. “We don’t use any chemicals or additives, which is a common practice in the wood pulp industry to produce fibrous material”, says Eduardo Gordillo, CEO of Bio-Lutions. “Therefore, we’re saving precious resources as well as establishing an ecologically friendly manufacturing process.“


Thanks to a special coating, this material can contain liquids and it is heat resistant. “Initially, we’re starting with one product line at the Schwedt location in Brandenburg.” In the first six months, half of its 6,000-ton capacity for finished product per year will be utilized, which comes down to producing 140 million units of fruit and vegetable packaging per year. One of the next steps will be to begin producing single-use tableware suitable for catering and film production. For Bio-Lutions, composting means home composting. „This is the supreme discipline“, emphasizes Gordillo, “because materials have to decompose without the introduction of either heat or bacteria in six months’ time.”


Photos: © Bio-lutions

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