Can the UK learn from Italy’s new compostable packaging EPR scheme?

Can the UK learn from Italy’s new compostable packaging EPR scheme?
01 July 2020

The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive (WFD) encourages society and industry to move away from a linear economy (take, make, use, dispose) towards a more holistic, circular model where waste is treated as a valuable resource and re-introduced to production processes as much as possible. One of the key mandatory targets under the WFD is the separate collection of biowaste by 2023, which will help ensure that materials for composting comply with quality standards. This will also help to contribute towards achieving the 65% municipal waste recycling target by 2035.

Under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy approach, packaging producers pay fees for each material type they place on the market. The fee is calculated based on the ability for waste packaging materials to be collected, the recyclability of the material and if there is an end market for the recycled material. Traditionally, compostable and biodegradable plastic materials (bioplastic) have been treated as contamination for the conventional plastic material recycling process. 

It is estimated that approximately 100,000 tonnes of bioplastic packaging material is placed on the Italian market each year. Therefore, producers of these materials have been charged the maximum fee for plastics.

However, Italy is set to lead the way in the compostable packaging market within Europe. In May 2020, a new EPR scheme was announced that is dedicated to bioplastics packaging material – BIOREPACK. This new scheme will sit alongside the six other dedicated material schemes (steel, aluminium, paper, wood, plastic and glass) as part of the CONAI consortium. This consortium ensures that producers and users of packaging achieve the recycling and recovery targets set out by the EU and Italian Government, and comply with the principles of EPR.  

Only packaging material that meets the EN 134321 standard is accepted under the new scheme. To comply with this standard, compostable plastics must disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after 6 months under industrial composting methods. Other bioplastic materials that are not compostable follow the same material flows as the conventional plastic counterpart through the dedicated plastic EPR scheme – COREPLA

The money collected from producers that place compostable packaging onto the Italian market – approximately EUR 20 million per year – will be directed to the organic recyclers (composting and anaerobic digestion facilities) that will treat the organic waste and compostable packaging. 

Some of the money collected from producer fees will also be used for communication and citizen awareness campaigns at national and local levels. The communication campaigns aim to educate the public about what can or can’t be disposed of within their organic waste collections with the goal of keeping the contamination level below 5%. Several municipal authorities have the power to impose a fine on individual households if they consistently put non-compostable materials into their organic waste.

BIOREPACK is looking to design a new label/brand that can be applied to packaging to increase the recognition of compostable packaging that meets the EN13432 standard. 

Not only are several countries in Europe looking to Italy’s new EPR model for compostable packaging materials, but countries in Asia and North America are also interested to see if they can establish a similar scheme within their own fledgling EPR systems. 

There is also keen interest from the UK, which is in the process of designing a new EPR packaging system. The compostable packaging market in the UK is considerably smaller than that in Italy – approximately 20,000 tonnes of compostable packaging and compostable materials per year. Producers contribute roughly GBP 1 to GBP 1.5 million via the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) funding model for packaging material fees under the UK’s EPR system. None of the money collected from producers of compostable packaging is being provided to those composting facilities that treat the waste. Instead, it is distributed between the waste management companies treating conventional plastic packaging materials. With the need for a rapid increase in the coverage of separate biowaste collections by 2023, it will be important for the new packaging EPR system in the UK to incorporate similar elements that have been developed in Italy for compostable packaging materials – such as the mandatory requirement that all lightweight carrier bags and food caddy liners are made from compostable packaging materials, and there must be a clear labelling standard that consumers understand.  

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1Requirements for packaging recoverable through composting and biodegradation – test scheme and evaluation criteria for the final acceptance of packaging