February 21, 2007 | General

Biomass Moves From "Biodegradable" To "Carbon Neutral" (Japan)

BioCycle February 2007, Vol. 48, No. 2, p. 54
Japan takes official steps to promote biomass use in plastic products that can be recognized worldwide.
Masahiro Sakai

VOLUNTARY industry standards for food containers are in place regarding use of PLA (Polylactic Acid) products, and standards are being examined for PBS (Poly Butylene Succinate) in Japan. These standards are important since they will open the way for these biomass plastics in general food container production for which the market is very large. In Japan, these products are used in containers for blister packs for batteries, disposable cups and egg packaging.
In addition, in another remarkable market opening for biomass plastics, these materials are now being used in home appliances, car interior parts, etc. Work is underway to use biomass plastics to improve heat proof, impact proof and crystallization speeds. Most importantly, these developments have been realized by valuing their functions as CarbonNeutral® rather than biodegradable.
It is important to note in this market that the consumer in Japan does not necessarily think that the biodegradability of a product is good for the environment. Some people feel that these materials will encourage more disposable products.
In some countries, biomass plastics are still compared with other materials in terms of their biodegradability. However, when the shift in thinking from biodegradability to CarbonNeutral is taken into consideration and the application of biomass plastics technology advances, the importance of the certification system on use of biomass will be recognized worldwide.
Biomass Nippon Strategy
The Biomass Nippon Strategy, to which the Japanese Cabinet Council agreed in 2002, provides the strategic background for biomass use complete with specific goals and an action plan. In the strategy for biomass plastics, specific goals include a decrease in the price of biomass plastic resin to 200 yen in 2010, from a current price of 400 to 500 yen per kg. In addition, the following actions were outlined:
• We consider the designation of biodegradable and plant-derived plastics as valid procurement items under the framework of the Green Purchase Law;
• We will continue to make experimental use of biomass plastic products in the canteens of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries;
• We will support efforts to demonstrate biomass plastic products in their application as agricultural mulch films;
• We will verify the economic efficiency of biomass plastics as an industrial raw material, assist in production, evaluate quality and study ways in which they may be systematically supplied; and
• We will assist with the framework for Biomass Mark program management and support its expansion.
Biomass Mark Certification System
The Biomass Mark Certification System is based on the outcomes of “The Development and Evaluation Panel on Biodegradable Materials” (Chairman is Prof. Toshinori Kimura, Hokkaido University). This was an undertaking of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), and it has been executed by the Japan Organics Recycling Association (JORA) from August 2006. The goal is promotion of biomass use.
Registered products exceed 100 items as of the end of September 2006. The feature of this program is its ability to indicate the quantity of biomass included in the product – stated as “Biomass degree(biomass content)” in percentages (%). The first step in spreading this system is securing its reliability, and the technique that accurately measures the biomass degree should be made standard. Such a shift will see the “Biomass degree” become a world standard and Japan should play an important role in that.
Impacts Of CarbonNeutral System
Details on the CarbonNeutral system are as follows:
1. The term CarbonNeutral is more important than the term biodegradable in Japan in regard to biomass plastic products. The reasons are as follows: The durability of products as required by the market will be advanced by the development and application of new technology in biomass plastics; and The consumer in Japan does not necessarily think that the biodegradability of a product is good.
2. The government will positively support the Biomass Mark Certification System, since the purpose of the Biomass Mark is promotion of biomass use.
3. A practicable measuring method of “Biomass degree” should be made the international standard.
Masahiro Sakai is Deputy Director of Environment Policy in the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Sign up