ECN Position Paper ‘Plastics, Microplastics in Compost and Digestate’

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ECN Position Paper 'Plastics, Microplastics in Compost and Digestate'

Maximising the quality of compost and digestate

ECN estimates that 11.7 million tonnes of compost and 4,1 million tonnes of digestate are produced annually in Europe (Reporting years 2016/2017). ECN and its member organisations are committed to produce quality compost and digestate starting form separately collected bio-waste by minimizing the presence of plastic (and other) impurities in the final product.

According to ECN the quality of compost and digestate cannot be achieved without recognizing:

  • the importance of the purity of the feedstock (in terms of contamination with plastics) that is delivered at organic recycling facilities; bio-waste, the largest fraction of organic waste recycled in the EU, needs to be as clean as possible from conventional plastics such as plastic bags, food packaging and others, so to be treated effectively during the organic recycling process.
  • The better quality – in terms of physical impurities – that is obtained by collecting bio-waste with door-to-door collections schemes, compared to solutions relying on bring-schemes; door-to-door collection schemes are proven to raise awareness in households and other waste producers, leading to higher and better bio-waste sorting.
  • The technical limits of current machineries and technologies applied for pre-treating the feedstock to reduce physical contaminants or for refining the final product by sorting plastics; the organic recycling sector can reduce impurities, but technologies are unable to remove them entirely.

Key Priorities

Since the very beginning, national organic recycling organisations in EU member countries are being committed to recycle clean organic feedstock. ECN promotes the adoption of a Quality Assurance Scheme[i] for compost and digestate by its member organizations that include stringent limits for physical impurities.

Thus, ECN considers the following issues as key priorities to prevent and limit the presence of plastics in compost and digestate produced starting from separate collected feedstock:

  • A responsible supply chain for separately collected bio-waste
  • The Quality Assurance for Compost and Digestate
  • Microplastics in compost, in digestate and in soil

Conclusions

According to ECN the organic recycling sector needs to look carefully at the issue of plastics and microplastics in the production of quality compost and digestate by pursuing the maximum quality management and assurance of the composting and anaerobic digestion process.

At the same time specific initiatives need to be put in place by local authorities responsible for municipal solid waste management, so as to prevent conventional plastics to be collected with bio-waste, since current treatment technologies are unable to sort 100% of these contaminants during the recycling process.

ECN would like to point out that according to the principles of circular economy, the quality of compost and digestate can be enhanced through a clear commitment of waste producers, of waste collectors and others not to collect impurities (such as plastics and other materials) with bio-waste; thus, the need for quality starts from waste producers  and citizens , and continues with waste managers of cities and of municipalities, waste collection companies down to the composting and anaerobic digestion plants.

[i] European Compost Network 2018. European Quality Assurance Scheme for compost and Digestate. Quality Manual ECN QAS. Issue-No. 03_2018: https://www.compostnetwork.info/ecn-qas/ecn-qas-manual/

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