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Danish judge condemns calling PLA plant pot biodegradable

Can you call a pot biodegradable when it only composts under very specific circumstances, like in an industrial composting plant? No, says a Danish judge. They forbid the Danish company PlantPaper to advertise one of their PLA products as fully biodegradable, since it only decomposes in an industrial composting plant. 

The verdict was pronounced last week. The trial was started by a competitor of PlantPaper / Sungrow, who claimed the company was informing their clients incorrectly. The PlantPaper U1 product was advertised as leaving nothing behind but air and water and not leaving any visible microplastics in the soil. However, they did not add that this was only the case when put in an industrial composting plant. 

With the use of plastic being under pressure, there has been an ongoing search for alternative materials. Since sustainability is a hot item in the industry, there have been mix-ups of the terms of biobased and biodegradable / compostable.

Also in this case also the words biodegradable and compostable were used to promote a PLA product: Ingeo. However PLA, short for Polylactic Acid, means that a product is made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. This does not mean that a product is biodegradable in all circumstances. In this case the product only composts in a recycling installation. If it is not recycled in this installation, the materials will remain in the soil. 

"If only Sungrow said the material required industrial composting, customers could decide for themselves whether or not to buy the product. Now they think that it is biodegradable and compostable, but when put in the ground this is not the case. It will contaminate the soil until it is removed and put into an industrial composting plant", the accuser explained in this specific trial. "This is information a buyer should know."

Informing customers
The judge agreed with this vision and says that the product cannot be marketed as follows:

- 100% biodegradable
- Fully biodegradable
- 100% compostable
- Leaves behind nothing but air and water
- It does not leave any invisible microplastic in the soil
- Will leave nothing behind

It can only be marketed as above when it also states that this is only the case when put in an industrial composting plant.

Biobased fiber
According to Carsten Storgaard, CEO with PlantPaper, the verdict is not against the product, but on how to market it. He says it is more an issue that this type of material, the PLA, doesn't fit into any standard "box" of today. "Our product Plantpaper U1 is made of a new and innovative material called Ingeo. Ingeo are many things. But shortly told it is a 100% biobased fiber that can be “designed” for different end-uses." He believes the outcome of the trial is founded on the lack of relevant certifications for this type of product in the market. "We actually see this outcome as a momentarily setback for the whole industry and not only for our way of communicating our products towards our customers."