The Italian compostable materials industry has experienced a period of strong growth, according to new figures released by Assobioplastiche – the Italian association for bioplastics, biodegradable and compostable materials.
The amount of compostable packaging produced in Italy in 2019 was 101,000 tons, compared to 39,250 tons produced in 2012 (a growth of around 60% in five years). In 2018, Italy produced around 88,500 tons.
Figures from the association also show that the number of companies involved in the chain of producing bioplastics boomed from 143 in 2012 to 275 in 2019.
Over the last ten years the Italian Government has developed a clear legal framework for compostable plastics.
The final step of this policy was the 2012 ban on single-use carrier bags with an exemption for compostable bags that could be then reused as food waste bin liners. The law was extended, according to the EU lightweight carrier bag directive, to fruit and vegetable produce bags, to complete the legislative action on bags in Italy.
The number of employees in the sector has grown from 1,280 to 2,645, whilst the overall turnover of the sector has doubled in seven years to reach €745m in 2019.
Italy has recently invested in a new extended producer responsibility scheme for compostable packaging called Biorepak. It is hoped that the scheme will increase the recycling of compostable packaging and help the nation reach its 60% recycling target by 2035.
In a statement, Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (@bbia_uk) Managing Director David Newman welcomed the news and said: “The Italians are justifiably proud of their success because they are world leaders in this sector.”
He said the question he is often asked is “if compostable materials are such a small part of overall packaging, why bother?”
“The point the Italians make, and their Minister of Environment Sergio Costa made publicly, is that bioplastics are instruments to ensure food waste is collected and treated correctly. Just like you need five litres of engine oil to stop a 1,000 kilo automobile from seizing, you need materials that can be treated in composting and AD to ensure the plants work efficiently and are not overwhelmed by plastics.
“Further, those 110,000 tons go to substitute plastics which we all know are never recycled, because they are almost impossible to collect and treat- plastic carrier bags, plastic bin liners, plastic films covered in food, tea bags, coffee pods and many others. So not only do we get clean food waste, we reduce plastic waste we cannot recycle.
“Finally, as the Italians have shown, they can kick start a new industry and produce these materials there. They no longer need be imported from China or the USA. They use local agricultural feedstocks, stimulating farming especially in more arid areas; they convert disused chemical plants; they treat the products end of life, there.”
Newman added that the UK could emulate Italy’s success. “There is nothing exceptional about Italy. The UK has easier access to finance, as much technical and scientific capacity, a legal system which the world admires and the same size market, but we are heavily dependent upon imports for our packaging industries,” he explained.
Newman added: “If we wish to drive new industries, create employment, economy and added value, here is one industry waiting for the right signals from the UK Government. Investments in the UK could top £500 million in a short time as we have seen in Italy and after COVID-19 we desperately need innovative, environmentally sound industries to invest now.”
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