Recently I spoke with the owner of Roots and Rolls, a vegan Restaurant in Barcelona, about single use biodegradable plastic in restaurants.
They want to be the city’s most plastic conscious restaurant, which in today’s world is complicated. In our post on marine biodegradable plastic we saw that the world of degradable plastic is not as simple as it seems.
For starters there is no marine biodegradable plastic in existence at the moment. So all plastic, being it biodegradable or regular plastic, will stay long enough at sea to become fish and bird food. Or we fish the plastic out during our BarcelonaSail plastic fishing events.
Second there are 8 different plastic biodegradable certification labels in Europe alone, see post marine biodegradable plastic.
Third the certification agencies in Europe may apply the norms differently. The most well known bio plastic certification agency is the TUV Austria.
Biodegradable plastic guide for restaurants
First there are “biodegradable” and “bio-based” plastics.
Biodegradable is defined as the physical decomposition of a product into tiny pieces. After 12 weeks at least 90% of the product must pass through a 2 x 2 mm mesh. So basically it must turn into micro plastic.
Bio-based plastics are partially derived from biomass and not petroleum. Bio-based plastics are rated from 1 to 4 stars. One star indicates at least 30% biomass and a 4 star indicates a least 80% biomass. So look for the label with 4 stars.
Biodegradable certificate: OK compost Industrial
The most common biodegradable plastic certificate is “OK compost Industrial”. This certificate complies with the requirements of the EU Packaging Directive ( 94/62/EEC) and EN13432. One of the assumptions of this certificate is that plastic is constantly under heat conditions of 60 degrees Celsius. That is a lot warmer than Australia’s recent heat wave.
Plastic certified with the OK compost Industrial needs to go an industrial site that maintains that temperature. The infrastructure for processing this plastic is simply very limited available Europe let alone in the rest of the world. Therefor in Catalonia, Spain, the plastic is removed from the compost (fruits, vegetables).
The OK compost Industrial standard sets limits for volatile matter, heavy metals (Cu, Zn, Ni, Cd, Pb, Hg, Cr, Mo, Se, As) and fluorine. Which means they may contain the above.
Biodegradable certificate OK compost home
TUV Austria has developed a biodegradable certificate called “OK compost home” for composting plastic at home.
To obtain this certificate bio degradable plastic must decay in heat conditions of 20 to maximum of 30 degrees. BarcelonaSail thinks these are more realistic real life conditions.
Label Bio based plastics
Bio based plastics have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint. This label specifics only the bio based content of plastics as a percentage of total weight. The highest score is a 4 star bio based label with at least 80% biomass. The other 20% of the material could be toxic.
Best option for single use biodegradable plastic in Restaurants
Only if you really need to use single-use biodegrade plastic in Restaurants I recommend using single use plastic with both the certificates “4 star Bio based” and “OK compost home”. The disadvantages for single use plastics are clear:
Firstly, like any product, uncontrolled bio based biodegradable plastic disposal leads to littering and pollution of the ocean. Bio based biodegradable polymers will brake down in 6 to 12 months. During this time the plastic is a potential harm to wildlife. After the plastic has degraded into micro plastic it still affects nature
Secondly using maize, corn and other crops to manufacture plastics, it taking away food destined for human consumption.
We always say: “have your own multi-use bag, cup and water bottle”.