Use of biodegradable plastics can potentially reduce harmful, polluting plastic waste in the open environment and contribute to Green targets. But most such plastics only degrade in specific environments and should only be used in line with new recommendations from the European Commission’s independent Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA), led by Corpus Fellow Professor Nicole Grobert.

The GCSA recommends biodegradable plastics offer potential environmental benefits in the open environment over conventional plastics – but only in certain circumstances. Assessing which specific biodegradable plastic applications can offer environmental benefits requires careful consideration.

Growing global demand for durable, lightweight and versatile materials, such as plastic, has led to an increased amount of plastic waste in the open environment, causing harm and pollution in land and marine ecosystems. But, since most biodegradable plastics only degrade in specific environments, the advisors recommend limiting their use to applications for which reduction, reuse, and recycling are not feasible, in order to support environmental targets.

The advisors recommend the development of coherent testing and certification as well as promoting accurate information on biodegradable plastics, their properties, use and disposal – and their limitations. The recommendations will contribute to informing the forthcoming Commission’s policy framework related to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics, and help define the main challenges and policy actions needed in this area.

The European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA) contribute to the quality of EU legislation through the provision of independent scientific advice to the Commission. They are seven eminent scientists, appointed in their personal capacities and who advise the Members of the European Commission.