Plastic catering products are increasingly used by consumers in everyday life. The lightweight properties, high durability and freedom of design of the fossil-based plastic resource material gives clear advantages, but is accompanied with the generation of high amounts of waste that is often difficult to recycle or unintentionally leaks into the natural environment. This project aims to create a circular end-of-life scenario for single-use catering products by developing materials and products that can be recycled, but will also biodegrade upon leakage into environment.
Plastic catering products, mainly single-use, represent about half of all marine litter found on European beaches. Therefore, the European Union published a directive ordering member states to establish, before summer 2021, new legislation that will prevent the accumulation of these products in the natural environment.
A possible alternative is the use of biodegradable materials. However, such products need to have proven biodegradable properties under at least home composting and preferably also in soil and marine environments. Therefore, this project aims to create a more sustainable and circular end-of-life scenario for single-use catering products by developing new materials and products that can be processed by conventional recycling routes (including home composting), but will also degrade within a year upon leakage into the natural environment.
To achieve this result the first step of the project is to modify the properties of existing home compostable polymers so that they meet the industrial requirements for the production of catering products. Focus will be on products and properties that cannot be obtained by alternative biobased non-plastic materials (such as wood and paper). The second step is to enhance the biodegradation behaviour of these materials so that they will degrade faster in soil and/or marine environments. The final step of the project is to combine the knowledge on material modification and improved levels of biodegradation and develop catering products that degrade within one year in the case of leakage into the natural environment.
Communication and policies are integral parts of this project as the developments should fit within the EU legislation and it needs to be clearly communicated that usage of biodegradable products is not a ‘license to litter’. Overall, this project aims to make a contribution to the reduction of the net amount of plastic waste on land and in the marine environment.