Active Last updated: 23.04.2020
End: dec 2022
Start: jan 2020

There is an increasing interest in plastics, both as a resource and as a pollutant. Climate change and environmental concerns have boosted the development of various types of biodegradable plastics, spanning from disposable food containers to waste bags and agricultural mulch films. But how fast do these products degrade in Nordic soils and waste streams?

Status Active
Start - end date 01.01.2020 - 31.12.2022
Project manager Claire Coutris
Department Bioresources and Recycling Technologies
Partners NIBIO, Østfoldforskning, Grønt Punkt Norge, SIMAS IKS, Norsk Landbruksrådgiving, Landfiks.
Total budget 6480000
Funding source Norwegian Research Council and Handelens Miljøfond

There is an increasing interest in plastics, both as a resource and as a pollutant. Although a lot of emphasis is placed on recycling, the use of recycled plastics is still low in Europe. In this context, climate change and environmental concerns have boosted the development of various types of biodegradable plastics. The use of biodegradable plastics spans from disposable containers for food/drink, serviceware and wipes, via waste bags for organic waste collected for biogas production, to agricultural films used to cover soil during vegetable production. Waste and recycling companies are poorly prepared for such a transition, as is the public, which is likely to struggle in keeping a profusion of products and their waste separation apart. In addition, biodegradable plastics may not degrade so quickly and completely that the products disappear in nature, and the label may encourage people think otherwise, enhancing littering.

 

During the project, we first want to determine if biodegradable mulch films used in agriculture are truly and fully degraded in cold climatic regions like Norway, as opposed to accumulation of macro- or microplastics remaining in soil, causing environmental damage and public concern. Secondly, we want to describe the fate of biodegradable and compostable plastics in waste streams, to determine to what extent intended end-of-life treatments (composting and biogas production) leak biodegradable plastics to the environment. Finally, we want to describe the environmental costs/benefits of biodegradable plastics and provide a life-cycle perspective in both agriculture and waste streams. Ultimately, the project will help providing the recycling and composting sector with the information needed to make sound decisions on questions regarding these materials, and providing farmers with advice on which type of biodegradable plastic products to use for specific purposes and conditions.

Outcomes and impacts

  • Determining if biodegradable plastics are truly and fully degraded when encountering realistic end-of-life conditions in cold climatic regions like Norway, as opposed to accumulation of macro- or microplastics remaining in soil/compost, causing environmental damage and public concern.
  • Determining to what extent intended end-of-life treatments leak biodegradable/compostable plastics to the environment.
  • Describing the environmental costs/benefits of biodegradable plastics and assess whether they represent materials which align with circular economy.
  • Provide the recycling and composting sector with the information needed to make sound decisions on questions regarding biodegradable materials.
  • Provide farmers with advice on which type of biodegradable plastic products to use for specific purposes and conditions and which costs/benefits are associated with the available options, including environmental impact at end-of-life.

Work packages and tasks

WP1. Project management 

WP2. Biodegradation in soil
This WP focuses on the degradation of biodegradable mulch films in soil under Nordic conditions. Task 2.1 Analysis and selection of currently used materials, Task 2.2 Mineralization kinetics in soil free incubations, Task 2.3 Mineralization kinetics in soil slurry incubations, Task 2.4 Limiting factors during incubation in intact soil, Task 2.5 Field incubations in mesh bags, Task 2.6 Macro scale degradation/multiyear accumulation and dispersal in the field.

WP3. Biodegradation in waste streams
This WP focuses on the fate of a range of selected materials and products during waste treatment: composting of compostable plastics, and degradation of biodegradable plastics during biogas production. Task 3.1 Biodegradation in lab-scale composting conditions, Task 3.2 Degradation in full-scale composting facility, Task 3.3 Degradation in lab-scale biogas reactors

WP4. Life cycle assessment
This WP focuses on LCA and environmental footprint analysis of biodegradable plastic materials relevant to the agricultural and waste handling sectors. Task 4.1 Define the value chains to be analysed and the need for data, Task 4.2 Model and analyze of the systems, Task 4.3 Follow ongoing research on development of LCA methodology to include plastic litter

WP5. Dissemination