Could you sum up in a few words what OWS does and your role within it?
OWS stands for “Organic Waste Systems”. The company deals with several environmental management-oriented activities, with a special focus on compostability, ecotoxicity and biodegradation tests in various environments (such as fresh water, marine water, soil, landfill, home composting and industrial composting). OWS also offers controlling services for material recycling and research in fields such as sustainability, LCA, and carbon footprint. Over the past thirty years, we tested thousands of samples for hundreds of clients from all around the world, with many in France.
As for me, I am a Lab Manager at OWS and have been involved in biodegradation tests from the beginning.
You spoke about compostability and biodegradation during the General Assembly held last April. Since this subject is quite complex, which are the key messages to keep in mind, especially regarding packaging?
Compostability is more than a (sole) matter of biodegradability: it also implies degradation time – related to the thickness of the product – and the lack of harmful and/or toxic effects.
Biodegradability is not a main characteristic and can (significantly) change depending on the environment. Claiming a product is biodegradable thus requires mentioning in which environment biodegradability is supposed to take place.
Industrial and home compostability are not necessarily equal, since home composting implies a minimum of involvement (blending, adding water) in order to be proper composting and not only a home landfill.
Within a circular economy, which waste should be prioritized for composting?
First and foremost, garden waste. There is also kitchen waste (vegetables, fruits and leftover food). We finally consider man-made products since they enable co-benefits by leading (much) more natural waste to the right way (i.e organic composting, processing and recycling): tea bags, coffee pods, fruit labels, biowaste sampling bags, and so on.
What is the rate of waste source separation in Belgium?
Bio-waste source separation is common in Belgium since almost the entire population is involved in one way or another. Most biowaste includes garden and kitchen waste collected at home. Some garden waste is also collected in container parks. Home composting is therefore strongly promoted in Belgium.
Which topical issues regarding packaging do you consider as high-priority and that the CNE could investigate in Working groups or any other form of communication (such as information mornings)?
There is no “magical” solution for packaging and all opportunities should be considered; compostability could so play a part in cases where recycling is hardly possible and incineration with energy recovery is not relevant. There are, for example, multi-components or packaging which end up wet or sullied with leftover food when collected. Compostability can also be a great opportunity in cases that provide co-benefits, and lead more (bio)waste on the way to organic recycling.