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Bioplastics: the importance of the
EN 13432 standard
As sustainability continues to drive innovation in packaging, the importance of conforming to regulatory standards has only become more important. Assobioplastiche lays out why the EN 13432 standard is one to pay attention to and what it means for packaging.
Assobioplastiche, the Italian Association for bioplastics and biodegradable and compostable materials, promotes the use and image of bioplastics and endeavours to protect the sector from unfair competition and practices. Assobioplastiche wishes to contribute to the implementation of a legislative framework designed to encourage the production and spread of low environmental impact materials, their proper use, the correct application of standards and certifications identifying biodegradable and compostable products, and the promotion of biodegradability and compostability labels in accordance with the EN 13432 standard.
Manufactured products certified in accordance with the EN 13432 standard can contribute to the development of industrial composting systems. For some years now, there has been significant interest in the development of industrial composting as an element of symbiosis between the recycling of compostable products and the recycling of the organic fraction of municipal solid waste, i.e. kitchen and garden waste.
Directive 94/62/EC: defining compostability requirements for Europe
Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste specifies that the composting of packaging waste is to be considered a real form of recycling of materials, since the initial product, the packaging, is transformed into a new product, compost. Biological treatment can play a very important role in reaching the recycling targets set by the directive, where other forms of recycling of materials cannot be proposed for technical or economic reasons. The directive has indicated the need to prepare European standards defining the compostability requirements, i.e. the characteristics that packaging must have in order to be defined as “compostable” and therefore recycled with this particular form of treatment.
The European Committee for Standardization, better known by the acronym CEN, was directly involved by the European Commission in defining the standards (or, more precisely, the “technical standards”) in support of the directive.
The EN 13432 standard: setting out compostable characteristics
The aim of the EN 13432 standard is to set out the characteristics of compostable packaging and the test procedures needed to verify that the packaging meets the specified requirements. Compostable packaging must have the following main characteristics:
- Biodegradability, understood as the capability of the packaging material to be metabolically converted into carbon dioxide;
- Disintegratibility, understood as fragmentation and loss of visibility in the final compost (absence of visual pollution);
- Absence of negative effects on the final compost (reduction of the agronomic value and presence of ecotoxicological effects on plant growth).
Each of these points is needed in order to define compostability, but this alone is still not enough. A biodegradable material is not automatically compostable, because it is also necessary to prove that it actually disintegrates during the composting cycle and does not create problems either in the process or in the end product (compost).
It is neither easy nor economical to characterise a plastic material in accordance with the EN 13432 test scheme. On the contrary, it is something that has to take place over time and cannot be carried out simply and independently by consumers, users, or anyone interested in product and declaration controls. Thus, the standardisation activity which gave rise to EN 13432 is necessary but not enough to ensure an orderly and controlled market.
The ‘compostability certificate’: verifying standards and compliance
Another stakeholder is needed: the certifier. Standardisation of a product is often confused with its certification. In reality, the standard sets out the requirements that are to be met, while certification certifies that a given product actually meets the requirements of the standard. Certification is a procedure by which an independent third party gives written assurance that a product, service, process or person complies with specified requirements. The credibility of a certification depends on the organisation that issues it: the qualification of certification bodies is referred to as “accreditation”.
In the field of bioplastics, certification bodies have three roles. Their first role is the initial verification of compliance. The certifier checks whether the product complies with the standard, i.e. if the tests carried out by an approved laboratory satisfy the requirements of EN 13432, then issues what is known as the ‘compostability certificate’. The second role is to identify the certified product by way of a mark, or a logo that is easily recognised by the consumer. This specific mark ensures that consumers will know that their product is compostable. The third role concerns market surveillance. After the product has been certified and marked with the certification logo, it is placed on the market with the description ‘compostable’. The certifier verifies that the product actually on the market and certified in compliance with EN 13432 is in fact compliant by way of sampling, analysis or inspections at production sites.