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Detox Design Dialogues:  Circularity in Practice!

Why do bioplastics decompose in Amsterdam, but not in Berlin?

Let's turn our attention to waste cycles. “Bioplastics are not suitable for industrial waste systems”, claims Berlin’s public waste company. “Bioplastics certified EN13432 decompose in industrial waste systems, but the waste cycle has to be long enough“, says designer Verena and she gives us more insights. by Christian Busch

How would you define an ideal circular waste system?


It is one which does not have different regulations in each federal state! I would wish for waste disposal companies to adopt a real circular mindset when it comes to the question ‘How do we deal with waste?`. Instead of seemingly making waste “disappear” by burning it, our aim should be to identify and use remains as food for nurturing the ecosystem. To be fair, this process needs to start when designing a product.

Germans love recycling rituals. However, only 30-40% of the yellow bin content is officially recycled (1/3 of these are shipped abroad and another third is not clean enough to be recycled and / or not made of mono material).

The length of waste cycles is important

Since we are talking about circularity, Berlin’s municipal waste disposal company (Berliner Stadtreinigung, BSR) is openly opposing the use of compostable bioplastics bags. The company insinuates that bioplastic bags do not decompose properly, while certified material is proven to be compostable in industrial systems within 12 weeks.

Recently, a study has confirmed that EN13432 certified bioplastic products decompose within (a maximum of) 22 days in industrial waste systems.

It looks like Berlin’s industrial compost cycle is designed rather time-efficient.  It seems to be uncompatible with bioplastics, because the allowed time span is shorter.

Decomposition of bioplastics

Christian: Are there waste systems in place that allow  Bioplastics to decompose?

Waste disposal in the Netherlands is already functioning in a more circular economic way. Disposal companies have established a 12-week waste cycle which allows the decomposition of certified bioplastics. For instance, organic supermarkets like Ekoplaza already use a significant amount of compostable packaging (and also unpackaged food). In other words, the success of compostable plastics in the Netherlands stems from policies that open doors, instead of maintaining walls.

Bioplastic bags could provide some hygiene


And what does the current policy in Berlin's waste system mean in terms of bioplastics?


Let me put it in a little exaggerated fashion. Currently, certified compostable packaging in Berlin has to be somehow buried in one's own garden or plant pot, because Berlin’s BSR refuses to accept bioplastics in the brown bin. Knowing this, I´ve made sure to work with a supplier of material which is even certified biodegradable in SOIL.

I often hear people say that they find it too scary to even open the brown bin in a communal shared waste system. There are meat and bone leftovers mixed up with plant-based kitchen waste, orange peels, you name it. It does not smell pleasant and has a million flies when opening the lid. Certified bio plastic bin bags would provide hygiene, but as stated before, the material faces some stigma from the waste company.