Guidelines for Sustainable Bioplastics

Goals by Life Cycle Stage

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Biological Feedstock Production

The overall goal for feedstock production is agricultural systems that are sustainable for farmers, the environment, farm workers and communities. This section defines the goals for the farmers that grow the crops. Attainment of these goals, however, will generally require the support of the manufacturers who buy the farmers’ crops. Buyers can engage by encouraging manufacturers to preferentially purchase feedstock that addresses these goals. Buyers may also encourage the spread of these practices through participation in credible offset and certificate programs where the sustainably grown feedstock is not already readily available for the actual product.

A. Eliminate hazardous chemicals of concern

Steps to best practice are:

  1. Use integrated pest and weed management to lower use of synthetic chemicals.
  2. Avoid use of bio-solids on cropland from sewage sludge due to toxic chemical content.
  3. Eliminate use of key hazardous chemicals of concern (see Appendix):
    • Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals
    • Very persistent and very bioaccumulative chemicals (vPvB)
    • Carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxicants and endocrine disruptors.
  4. Eliminate use of all hazardous chemicals.

B. Avoid usage of genetically modified seeds

Protect biological diversity, health and safety and access to seeds and non-transgenic varieties for farmers. See guidance for GMOs in production under Section 2 — Processing and Manufacturing.

C. Conserve, protect and build soil

Steps to best practice are:

  1. Use no-till or conservation tillage, cover crops, mulch and crop rotations to optimize water retention, increase carbon sequestration, build soil health, and sustain and enhance soil fertility.
  2. Use other soil retention and conservation practices, such as terraces; contour farming; strip cropping; undersowing/interplanting; permanent waterways; wind or fire breaks.
  3. Use perennial deep-rooted crops and grasses to protect soil. Top

D. Conserve nutrient cycles

  • Utilize on-farm nutrients, such as well composted animal and green manures that do not contain toxic or hazardous contaminants.
  • Use cover crops and mulches to supply nutrients and minimize losses.
  • Grow well-adapted crops that integrate into the farm’s nutrient cycling.
  • Minimize the amount of nutrients that are imported onto the farm such as feeds.
  • Minimize use and eliminate the runoff of synthetic fertilizer. Top

E. Protect air and water access and quality

  • Utilize well-adapted crops in systems that do not require irrigation.
  • Eliminate pollution from erosion, pesticides and nutrients or other waste products.
  • Minimize water use by maximizing efficiency of irrigation and other water utilization systems.
  • Do not use water beyond replacement levels.
  • Return surplus water to original ground and surface water sources. The returned water must be clean and able to support drinking water needs and healthy aquatic ecosystems.
  • Eliminate wind erosion, odor, chemical and biological drift and other air quality impacts.
  • Create on-site biological water treatment systems. Top

F. Promote biological diversity

  • Avoid monoculture planting. Develop feedstocks raised in polyculture and perennial-based agricultural systems serving multiple purposes; plan crop rotations so some fields always provide food (intentionally planted wildlife food crops or crop leftovers), water, and cover for priority and other wildlife. Top
  • Use selection of plant species and varieties adapted to site-specific conditions and/or non-chemical weed control methods to reduce or eliminate herbicides, herbicide tolerant crops, and other technologies that threaten plant diversity.
  • Use selection of plant species and varieties adapted to site-specific conditions and/or biological pest control methods, including development of habitat for natural enemies; companion planting; release of predators/parasites of pest species; provide habitat for insect predators, birds and bats; or other biological controls.
  • Restore and/or protect wildlife habitat, corridors, migratory pathways, waterways and wetlands; restore and/or maintain natural buffers, such as wildlife corridors and riparian zones; when appropriate, flood fallow fields to provide habitat for waterfowl and shore birds; create means for safe passage of wildlife through parts of the farm, by adapting or reducing fencing; avoid conversion of sensitive habitats to farm production. Base wildlife restoration on native species and pre-agricultural ecosystems.
  • Develop conservation plans that include protection of endangered species, species of special concern, keystone species, and genetic resources, and prevention of the introduction and spread of invasive species; provide habitat for pollinators.
  • Do not convert existing forest, wildlife refuge or parkland or other important habitat to plantations or crop land. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands can be used only with crops and farm plans compatible with the CRP purpose. Top

G. Reduce impacts of energy use

  • Minimize total energy use.
  • Use renewable energy sources, preferably produced on-farm or within the region of the farm.
  • Use only renewable energy sources — ideally from on-farm generation and local cooperative supplies. Top

H. Reduce transportation impacts

  • Establish local processing facilities to reduce transportation distances.
  • Assure that vehicles transporting crops are loaded efficiently and are in good operating condition to optimize fuel economy and minimize environmental effects.
  • Use renewable energy for transportation.
  • Reduce or eliminate packaging.
  • Use packaging for farm crops that is biobased and compostable or is 100% recycled content and is recyclable. Top

I. Develop and certify a comprehensive sustainable agriculture plan

  • Use a program developed with farm stakeholder engagement that encourages farm planning and practices and that promotes the goals listed above. Certify implementation. (Examples include the IATP Third Crop Working Landscapes Certificate program, USDA organic or state certified organic and IFOAM organic member organizations. Programs from organizations that meet the criteria of ISEAL Alliance full membership (such as Working Landscapes and IFOAM programs) will tend to encompass a more comprehensive scope of environmentally sustainable agriculture harvest methods than other organic programs.
  • Observe similar sustainability guidelines for production of timber for wood cellulose based polymers. Use only certification by Forest Stewardship Council accredited programs. Top

J. Protect workers

See Appendix D