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Bioplastic foodservice ware, mulch film and packaging make plastic waste recycling more circular

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Alberto Fragapane

Novamont, an Italian bioeconomy pioneer, is a global leader in the production of biodegradable and compostable bioplastics that are used to manufacture products in different sectors, including packaging, foodservice and agriculture.

The compostable foodservice products (cutlery, cups, dishes, etc.) can greatly simplify waste management in closed loop systems, such as the catering and hospitality sectors, as these can be collected with the organic materials they're used for, and jointly recycled into biogas and compost.

These products increase recycling but also reduce waste management costs, as waste disposal facilities usually charge less for sorted food waste than for unsorted food-contaminated plastic waste.

In the agricultural sector, MATER-BI applications biodegradable in soil (mulch film and clips) increase productivity as they do not need to be removed and disposed of at the end of crop life, but can be ploughed into the soil where they biodegrade, thus simplifying the management and reducing the amount of plastic waste.

As regards packaging, MATER-BI compostable resins can be used in a wide variety of applications, including bags, pouches, sealing films, cling film plus ridged pots, trays and lids.

Main results: 

The use of biodegradable and compostable foodservice ware:

  • means a reduction of about 50 % in CO2 emissions and of about 15 % in water footprint;
  • combined with organic recycling, it is the preferred option for catering in quick service restaurants, contract catering and events, since it reduces significantly the carbon, water and resource footprint and is fully in line with circular economy principles.

In agriculture, the use of biodegradable mulch film generates important environmental advantages:

  • it reduces the presence of plastic waste in the soil, which in itself is difficult to remove and to recycle, as the recovered plastic is usually dirty of earth and plant residues, but also chemicals. In addition, the presence of traditional plastics in the soil may alter its properties, specifically affecting its water retention;
  • the overall reduction of the potential impacts when using biodegradable mulch films instead of traditional ones, calculated as against the average Italian scenario for end-of-life plastic materials, varies from 25% up to 80%.

Moreover the use of biodegradable mulch film does not generate additional costs. On the contrary:

  • the quantity of material required per hectare is lower for biodegradable mulch film, because it is thinner than the traditional one;
  • the use of biodegradable material eliminates all costs associated with the removal and disposal of mulch film at the end of the crop cycle. According to a research, the process of manually removing the traditional plastic mulch film from the fields after harvesting costs around 115-150 € per hectare.

In packaging, bioplastic materials:

  • offer unique barrier properties versus traditional plastics, such as good moisture vapour breathability which can help extend food shelf life in specific applications;
  • can also be used to replace packaging which is difficult to separate and recycle on a commercially viable basis and thus help increase the quality and purity of the traditional plastics recycling collection;
  • can also be an option for packaging articles to help return any remaining food waste contents for composting, as opposed to landfill or incineration.