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EU cracks down on greenwashing with new rules on environmental claims

Environmental sustainability emerges as a central theme today, emphasizing the urgent need for products that prioritize durability, reusability, recycling, and biodegradability. In this regard, the European Union has launched initiatives aimed at protecting consumers and promoting sustainable consumption, such as the Directives on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition and on Packaging and Packaging Waste, as well as the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.

This January 2024 has seen an important announcement that marks a crucial milestone in consumer protection and the promotion of sustainable business practices in the European Union. The European Parliament has approved a directive that transforms product labelling and bans misleading environmental claims.

The primary purpose of this directive is to safeguard consumer interests against fraudulent business practices, enabling them to make informed purchasing decisions based on sustainability criteria. To achieve this goal, a series of problematic marketing practices related to “greenwashing” and premature product obsolescence have been identified and included in the list of prohibited business practices in the EU.

The new legislation focuses on the clarity and reliability of product labelling, prohibiting environmental self-declarations without substantive evidence. The use of expressions such as “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate-neutral” or “eco” will not be allowed unless supported by measurable, reliable and comparable data. Likewise, claims that a product has a neutral, reduced, or positive environmental impact through emission offset systems will be prohibited.

In addition, the use of sustainability labels will also be strictly regulated, allowing only those based on official certification systems or established by public authorities in the future. In this sense, a new harmonized label will be introduced to highlight goods with extended warranty periods, as a crucial component of this new legislation is promoting the attention of both producers and consumers to product durability.

It is important to highlight that the directive now requires final approval from the Council. Once approved, it will be published in the Official Journal and member states will then have 24 months to incorporate it into their national laws.

SDGs/Green Transition Commitment

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consist of 17 interconnected objectives that emerge as a global call to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure a better future for the entire population. These goals were established in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents a global nature and is universally applicable, taking into account diverse national realities, levels of development and capacities. Its implementation also respects the political context and priorities of each nation. The 17 goals address various themes, each with specific targets, totalling 169. Additionally, each target has indicators to measure progress towards the objectives (United Nations, 2024).

The plastic sector plays a crucial role in achieving several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Examples of this include that the plastic industry, whether in manufacturing or recycling, generates thousands of essential job opportunities, contributing to the fight against extreme poverty (SDG1 End poverty) and promoting gender equality (SDG5 Gender equality) through the empowerment of women in society. Furthermore, this can lead to economic growth for the population (SDG8 Decent work and economic growth) (de Sousa, 2021).

Moreover, specific aspects of plastic production, such as process optimization, properties like biodegradability and the use of renewable raw materials, can contribute to objectives such as SDG3 (Good health and well-being), as plastics can negatively impact human health through the use of additives or toxic chemicals, as well as the release of microplastics; and SDG6 (Clean water and sanitation), as plastic waste is a contributor to water quality issues.

Additionally, environmental sustainability and the protection of the environment in all stages of the product life cycle are particularly reflected in SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production) and SDG13 (Climate action). The best way to promote these objectives is by advocating for a circular production model that optimizes the efficient use of resources and keeps them in the production and consumption cycle for the longest possible time. To achieve this, it is essential to analyse the life cycle of each product from a holistic and comprehensive perspective.

LCA Methodology in Rebiolution

To understand the environmental impacts of plastics, it is essential to analyse their entire life cycle -from extraction of raw materials through manufacturing, use and final disposal. While bio-based plastics are presumed to have a lower impact than fossil-based ones, a rigorous examination is crucial, as they can generate environmental impacts related to land use, water and agricultural chemicals.

In this context, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) emerges as a comprehensive methodology that evaluates the entirety of inputs and outputs associated with a product, process or service, thus generating an environmental profile. Through this assessment, LCA identifies key points within the system, highlighting stages with the greatest contribution to environmental impact. This analysis provides the basis for global improvement strategies, establishing objective criteria for environmental decision-making at the company and production levels.

Furthermore, LCA is an indispensable tool for eco-design and eco-planning, which aim to promote the development of environmentally efficient products and processes. By integrating LCA into these initiatives, a more informed and sustainable approach to system design and planning can be adopted, contributing to a greener and more responsible industrial landscape.

Within the framework of the REBIOLUTION Project, CTA will define the methodology for a comprehensive cradle-to-grave LCA of bio-based and biodegradable products, comparing them to current competitors. The approach will align with the latest methodologies, such as Joint Research Centre (JRC) Plastics LCA method, addressing concerns from the European Bioplastics Association (EUBP) and the European Bioeconomy Alliance (EUBA), as well as Safe and Sustaonable by Design (SSbD) framework. In addition, the results on biodegradability, compostability and toxicity will be included to characterize the impact of various end-of-life scenarios. Finally, the effects of littering, which is often overlooked, will be included and analyzed, considering potential consequences such as the release of additives, microplastics and other organic compounds upon degradation. To address this, studies highlighted by the Plastic Leak Project and the MarILCA group will serve as a basis, enabling the integration of environmental repercussions related to littering into the research.

The economic viability will also be assessed using a Life Cycle Costing (LCC) approach and compared to the identified competitors. The financial model will calculate Net Present Value (NPV) and Levelised Cost of Production (LCOP) for the products developed.

In conclusion, an optimized ecodesign will be developed based on process simulations in Aspen and LCA and LCC methodologies, utilizing the Multi-Objective Optimization (MOO) algorithm. This aims to demonstrate the competitiveness of REBIOLUTION’s production processes, from polymer manufacturing to conversion trials and recycling technologies, in terms of both cost and environmental performance

Rebiolution contextualization

Currently, plastic has achieved a prominent status as one of the most widely used materials, thanks to its versatility and low production cost. Such is its significance that in Western Europe, the average annual plastic consumption per person amounts to around 150 kg, more than double the global average, which stands at 60 kg.

The situation becomes alarming due to the rapid increase in global plastic consumption, together with its durability, which causes discarded plastics to persist in the environment for generations. This environmental impact results in problems such as littering accumulation, leaching of toxic components and ecosystem pollution with microplastics. Additionally, plastic production contributes to climate change, with annual emissions of approximately 13.4 million tons of CO2 in the European Union according to the European Environment Agency (EEA, 2020).

At this point, it is essential to understand that plastics are materials based on polymers, which are large chains of molecules that repeat over time. These molecules do not necessarily come from petroleum; instead, they can also be manufactured from raw materials such as corn, sugarcane or algae. Driven by increasing demand, growing acceptance among the population and the creation of more sophisticated applications, the global production capacity of bio-based plastics is expected to experience a significant increase. According to experts, it is projected to rise from approximately 2.18 million tons in 2023 to about 7.43 million tons in 2028 (EUBP, 2023).

In addition, it is important to address concepts such as the term “biodegradable,” which implies the ability to decompose by microorganisms into natural elements but does not specify the duration or conditions of plastic decomposition. Biodegradable plastics can be made from fossil or bio-based resources. On the other hand, compostable plastics degrade within a known timeframe during the composting process.

In this scenario, the REBIOLUTION project emerges as a significant breakthrough in the field of plastics. This project focuses on designing biologically sourced polymers and plastic blends that meet processing and application requirements while being biodegradable and compostable according to established standards. Its innovative approach revolves around new aliphatic-aromatic polyesters, which, even when blended with other biologically based aliphatic polyesters, confer biodegradability to the final product. With REBIOLUTION, a future is envisioned where sustainability and efficiency converge in the battle against environmental challenges posed by plastic.


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