Compostable materials production continues to grow

The production and use of biodegradable and compostable materials has continued to grow since 2020, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data supplied by Italian research consultancy Plastic Consult.

The data was supplied on behalf of Italian bioplastic association Assobio Plastiche.

Compostable plastic bagOverall the industry sector grew 9.7 per cent to register an annual turnover of €815 million, with a similar percentage increase in tonnage sold to 110,700 tonnes; an increase in FTE to 2,775 and number of companies involved to 278.

Since market monitoring began in 2012, the size of the Italian bioplastics industry has more than doubled, with a 10 per cent annual growth rate.

The principal sectors driving this growth have been:
lightweight carrier bags, 58000 tonnes and 2.7 per cent increase on 2019
fruit and vegetable bags (-3 per cent on 2019)
soil mulch films (+5 per cent on 2019)
other packaging materials which saw a 20 per cent growth rate
catering / tableware, which saw a huge increase of 116 per cent
food waste bin liners, which saw an annual increase of 3.5% per cent.

Managing Director of the Bio-Based Industries Association (BBIA) David Newman commented: “There are two pieces of very interesting data in terms of waste legislation and waste reduction.

“The market growth is closely aligned with legislative actions and not with financial incentives. There has been no tax payers funding used in developing the Italian industry sector at all, indeed the sector has pulled in investments from both national and international operators.

“For comparison, the market size for compostable materials in the UK in 2021 is estimated between 25K and 30K tonnes.”

According to Newman, there are three laws that stimulated this market:

  • In 2010, the obligation to collect food waste in compostable bin liners
  • In 2011, the banning of all lightweight carrier bags unless they are compostable (and therefore double as bin liners)
  • In 2017, the ban on all lightweight fruit and vegetable bags unless they are compostable (again to drive food waste collections).

By compostable, this means adhering to the EU/UK harmonised standard EN 13432:2000.

As a result, Italy has the highest per capita interception of household food waste in the world (after South Korea) amounting to over 100kg per person per annum – in the UK this is around 15kg. 

Half of all the food waste treated in EU 27 + UK, Norway and Switzerland, is collected and treated in Italy. 

Moreover, Italy’s food waste collections have one of the world’s lowest contamination rates, around 3 per cent plastics with levels of below 1 per cent in many regions in the north.

David Newman continued: “The use of many different compostable bags for food waste collections facilitates citizens whilst the ban on lightweight plastic bags ensures low contamination and simple communication to consumers (about 20 per cent of all carrier bags are still plastic, illegally imported or sold through criminal organisations. This number is decreasing year on year and significant fines are imposed upon illegal traders and distributors).

“To those who claim that substituting lightweight plastic bags with compostable bags is simply material substitution and therefore not a solution to waste reduction, it is worth noting that the number of carrier bags sold overall is in rapid decline despite the increase in compostable carrier bags sold.

“There has been a 58 per cent decrease in the sale of carrier bags from 2010 to 2020 from 180,000 tonnes to 74,500 tonnes.  As we do not monitor the overall sales of carrier bags in the UK we have no data to compare.

“The lessons for the UK are: a) mono mandated material waste streams are easier to collect, easier to communicate to consumers and ensure high recycling rates and lower contamination; b) the use of compostable materials has facilitated the growth of food waste collections which will be mandated across the UK from 2023 onwards; c) the industry offers a real chance for UKPLC investment.

“The NNFCC (in a separate study) shows the potential for investments in the UK by applying similar laws to Italy would be £524 million within this decade. Currently the UK produces few compostable materials and imports most of them despite rapid market growth and consumer demand.”