Dutch State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment Mansveld announced a plan last month to ban free plastic bags, starting January 1, 2016. This is one facet of a move into a new direction for the packaging industry, which appears to be reaching a turning point. Huib Burggraaf of Van der Windt Verpakking and Patrick Gerritsen of Bio4Pack talk about compostable packaging.
“I distinguish between compostable and non-compostable, and renewable and non-renewable,” Patrick Gerritsen says. “Everything is biodegradable in the end, it just could take millions of years. Renewable doesn’t automatically mean that packaging is also compostable. That also depends on the additives that are added.” Huib Burggraaf confirms sticking to the same categories. “A standard only exists for compostable packaging, namely that it has to be processed into compost within 90 days in an industrial environment.”
The development of compostable plastics began roughly twenty years ago. “For the past ten years, we’ve seen developments gaining momentum,” Huib says. “We are still using many agricultural products, such as lactic acid from corn, and starch from potatoes. In time, plastics will only be made from residual waste.” Although the market for compostable plastics is growing, their number remains small. “According to statistics, the ratio of compostable plastics in the Netherlands is one percent of all plastics,” Huib says. There is a potential for growth, although two difficulties remain: price, and the fact that not all packagings can be made from compostable or bio-based resources yet.
Price and quality
More expensive resources cause a higher cost price for packagings. For a foil, this can be many times the price of a non-compostable packaging. For a coffee cup, the price is thirty to forty percent higher. Especially in view of the low oil prices in recent months, the gap between sustainable plastics and conventional plastics is widening. “At first, fruit and veg was our most important market,” Patrick says. “But prices are under a lot of pressure there, and when costs have to be cut, packaging goes first. When you sell four packaged tomatoes for 99 cents, the packaging has to be very cheap.”
“In addition, the quality is still insufficient for some packagings,” Huib explains. “For instance, when it comes to packagings that are to influence a product’s shelf life, there really isn’t a compostable alternative yet.”
Growing markets and communication
The growth of the market is mainly found in the packaging of organic products. “Because the packaging is more expensive, we are looking for sectors where the packaging really has added value,” Huib explains. “So our compostable foils can be found in the fruit and veg department of Albert Heijn, for instance.” Compostable and renewable packaging is not very well known with the consumer. Huib: “We do have to work on communication regarding these packagings. We are working hard on that within the European Bioplastics partnership.” This organization launched the seedling logo: the visual mark of compostable plastics. Patrick is involved with Holland Bioplastics, an organization that talks to ministries and others, to increase awareness of these plastics.
Van der Windt Verpakking