Coke joint venture shuts down food-grade PET recycling plant

Posted on May 5, 2011 by DrRossH in Plastic Waste News

The joint-venture PET recycling plant that Coca-Cola Co. opened with great fanfare two years ago in Spartanburg, S.C., has stopped making food-grade recycled PET, but hopes to resume that process sometime this summer.  Read More

April 11 2011 Part 1, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives
Dr RossH commented on this site:

I believe the oxo degradable industry has a lot to answer for. There are many claims that I keep reading about are unsubstantiated. Most could be resolved with some sense too.

  1. An oxo product requires oxygen to break down. No oxygen, no degradation. That is simple.
  2. People generally dispose products to a landfill. About 60% of plastics go to a landfill and 40% are recycled. Once in a landfill they are going to get buried. No oxygen is present once down about 1 m or so. So for the oxo people to claim their product can go to a landfill and degrade is false advertising. For the 40% that is recycled, you do NOT want oxo additives in that plastic as it would start breaking down the new product. So Oxo products cannot be used in plastics that should go into the recycling scheme.
  3. Oxo manufacturers lean on their statement that their products are good for addressing the plastic litter problem. Again a simple thought will provide insight to this. We do not like litter around at all. So if an oxo modified plastic item has to stick around as litter for several years before it breaks down, then that is a very undesirable situation. That claim is very misleading.
  4. No one seems to discuss too much that oxo products when they degrade turn a single piece of plastic into lots and lots of little pieces of plastic. Where did we ever say that is a good thing to do. Thousands of pieces of plastic blowing in the wind or washing down our waterways has to be much worse for the environment than the original single plastic item. A review of the findings of people studying the effects of plastic on ocean wildlife shows the smaller the plastic item the more likely it is to be ingested by fish and birds. That leads to a horrible death. The oxo industry are it seems basing their whole premise on, once a plastic item has gone out of sight by breaking down into lots of little pieces, then we will be happy. Out of sight, out of mind. But the opposite is true. A plastic bottle on the ground is ugly litter, but a 1000 bits of that bottle scattered around the environment, not visible to the casual eye, is a whole lot worse of a situation.
  5. The claim of biodegradation in a landfill. According to a 2010 report out of Loughborough University commissioned by the DEFRA in the UK, there is little evidence to support these claims. They present a few studies that claimed it did happen, but their review said and stated why these were misleading reports. For naturally occurring bacteria to attack a plastic molecule and break it down, that molecule would have to be very, very small. So we are nownot talking about a bottle breaking down to 1000 parts but 100,000s of pieces. That has to be even worse for the environment. Do we want plastic sand everywhere?Composters have their own set of claims. While composting is a good process and works well, there are very few facilities around which means a very small portion of plastic waste ever goes to a compost facility, rather it goes to a landfill. Compostable materials do NOT break down in a landfill. So as a valid disposal option, composting has only a tiny role to play if any.

    The newer landfill biodegradable additives like ECOPURE will biodegrade a plastic item in an aerobic or anaerobic environment. Plastics with this additive can just go to a landfill like they are now and there they will biodegrade away. No special claim that it has to be at the top of a landfill like the oxo people require and no special temps as the compost people require. As for methane, the more methane we generate the more we can capture and turn into energy, freeing us of imported petroleum and that has to be a very good thing.

    So readers of this can make their own minds up, the oxo and the composters are just not what we want in society, there are too many problems. A simple landfill biodegrading additive like Ecopure or EcoOne are just that:  a simple way to rid us of our plastics problem.

    April 11, 2011 Part 2, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives
    Sustainable Citizen replied:

    I like to give you a few comments concerning the oxobio technology. The additives have only the purpose to prepare plastics molecules (the disintegration phase) to be digested by microbes if the final material is in such an environment. The issue with oxobio is not if it works or not, there are very many scientific reports and certified tests available to prove this (very many just to find on internet also), the issue is that the suppliers of oxobio do recommend too low concentration of the additives in order to get the business. One issue all suppliers of oxobio are aware of is that a low concentration like around 1% will not guarantee that the additive is homogenous spread in the final product and thus the technology might work or might not work. The technology itself is viable for a product to become biodegradable. I would say that the suppliers are marketing and selling viability, but when it comes to the final delivery and inclusion in the application this might not be viable, because of the low concentration. The only purpose of having a low concentration is to have a low impact on the final cost for the producer. As from a marketing point of view the oxobio market is a mature market with a number of established producers and in a mature market very often the competitive strategy the participants have to get the business is to compete on price primarily. This is exactly the case here. Thus the low inclusion rate and thus the potential viability issue. This is normal for any technology unless someone is breaking the behaviour. So called vegetable based plastics, starch etc, producers will have the same problem in due time when they compete on the market. The major issue in reality is instead that very few producers and also retailers believe that an added value should provide any extra cost to the product. In a mass market like plastics packaging this is the issue.

    You should also read the very comprehensive report on carrier bags published by the UK Environment Agency recently… and make your own conclusions.
    This will give you perspective.

    April 14, 2011 Part 3, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives

    Dr RossH replied:

    Thanks for the last reply. I tried the link but it did not work. This was a recent report that I found quite interesting on the short comings of Oxo-degradable products. ‘EV0422
    Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Oxo-degradable Plastics Across Their Life Cycle.’ A

    Google search will bring it up.
    You say oxo additives cause the disintegration of the plastic and when those pieces are put in a bacteria environment, the bacteria will digest them. The question I have is, if an item with an oxo additive in it, is disposed of normally, as into trash then on to a landfill, where it gets buried and there is no light or little oxygen for the chemical reaction to progress, then how can the plastic item break down?

    How small does the polymeric chain have to be before bacteria can digest it? If the original molecules are long and the bacteria cannot digest them, then if an item like a plastic bag breaks down into say 100 fragments, then those pieces are still very large with respect to the size of bacteria. It would seem that the bag has to break down into millions of fragments before bacteria can start to attack them? This is what various websites are purporting. From what the information available about oxo products that I have come across, explains is that the plastic items with oxo additives will not break down in a landfill for the above reasons. This is clearly stated on the Oxoalliance website. I came across one website of a large oxo manufacturer that said products with their additive in them will break down in a landfill. Then in further reading down the site it clarified that the break down is in a landfill if they are at the top of the landfill where there is still oxygen present. This I thought was quite misleading. Another website mentions a test they performed to verify their products would fragment whereby they ‘hung a bag on a fence’. Now we have those fragments blowing around in the environment.
    The report mentioned above looks into some of the studies where claims of biodegradation were made and it mentions errors and where the authors neglected to provide some details that affected the results.

    These newer landfill biodegradable additives (for example, Ecopure and EcoOne) seem to have so much more going for them as far as simplicity is concerned. Dispose of a bag in a landfill and it breaks down by bacterial action. Doesn’t matter if there is oxygen or light present or not. No special temperature is required. They do not break down on the surface so there are no little plastic fragments blowing around. Products with these additives in can be put back into the recycling stream (unlike oxo products) and new products made. These new products would then have the ability to biodegrade once they were discarded to a landfill. They can sit on a shelf indefinitely as there is no degradation action until they disposed to an environment with bacteria present.

    Your comment about manufacturers cutting back on the additive to keep the costs down is sad but probably true. No one could verify the results so they could never get pulled up on it. Once again the economics overshadows the real environmental reason we are all doing this.

    April 14, 2011 Part 4, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives
    Sustainable Citizen replied:

    Sorry you couldn’t get the report. I suppose they don´t have available as easy as before. It´s a pdf format report called “Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags Report: SC030148” Published by UK Environmental Agency in end Feb 2011. I could send you the report if I have your email address.
    To comment the potential biodegradability and fragmentation. As in aerobic biodegradation there is some standards on how to determine the degradation and then the biodegradation. You are maybe aware of this already. The fragmentation is called ISO20200 and the biodegradation leading to compost is called ISO14855. There are oxobio system which fulfil the ISO20200 but not the ISO14855. The major issue is that these tests are limit in time as they have the only purpose to prove that a product is to be composted and that period is stated to be max 180 days if the compost is to be approved. Oxobio will have a problem to achieve the time based on technology reasons.. In order that the microbes are to start digesting the polymer molecules, the molecules need to be around 1/20 of the size it had from the beginning. If that is taking time the biodegradation will also take longer time, naturally. The oxobio system is also changing the properties of the plastics by making it being hydrophillic (“water dispersible”) and not the opposite like normal plastics – hydrophobic. Being hydrophillic is also more attractive to the microbes, bacteria.

    The nonareobic technologies, Ecopure etc ate not really suitable for aerobic applications even if it seem like they are suitable.. They surely biodegrade plastics in anaerobic environments (landfills), but the process in general is very slow and if they do it under aerobic conditions is is even slower. There is no “one” solution to the problem but several options if you like to go for low carbon footprint alternative at also low cost.

    April 18, 2011 Part 5, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives
    Symphony UK wrote:

    Ross H is correct that an oxo-bio plastic product requires oxygen to degrade, and will not therefore degrade in parts of a landfill which are anaerobic. No responsible oxo company claims otherwise. Why in any event would you want plastic to degrade in landfill? A landfill operator needs stability and does not want material degrading in anaerobic conditions and producing methane, unless the landfill is designed to collect the gas. Landfill is not the primary purpose of oxo-bio plastic.

    Ross H is also correct that compostable plastics provide no benefit in landfill. They do not even provide a benefit in compost, because they are required to turn themselves into CO2 gas within 180 days. This contributes to climate change but does not improve the soil.

    He is not correct about recycling oxo-bio products, as they can in fact be recycled together with normal plastics However, hydro-biodegradable or “compostable” plastics cannot be recycled together with normal plastics, and anyone who is concerned about recycling should therefore be calling for hydro-biodegradable (“compostable”) plastics to be banned. The packaging manager of Tesco (Britain’s largest supermarket) said on 20th October 2009 that the supermarket “does not see the value in packaging that can only be industrially composted” and that “city authorities do not want it, as it can contaminate existing recycling schemes.”

    Of course nobody likes litter lying or floating around at all, but Ross H should look around him in the real world. When the day dawns that there is no plastic waste in the environment there will be no need for oxo-biodegradable plastic, but that day is very many years in the future. In the meantime all short-life plastic products should be oxo-bio so that they will degrade much faster than ordinary plastic if they do get into the open environment. Of course they will not degrade immediately, because they are designed to be re-used many times. Here is a video of oxo-bio plastic degrading.

    It is correct that ordinary plastic will eventually break down into tiny pieces of plastic, but this is not the case with oxo-bio plastic. It is converted into a low molecular-mass material which is inherently biodegradable on land or sea. The issue is not the physical size of the fragments, but the molecular-weight. Below 20,000 Daltons the material is no longer a plastic. The studies on marine litter to which Ross H refers are about ordinary plastic. If all the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” had been made with oxo-bio, it would not be there at all.

    The Loughborough report to which he refers, confirms that oxo-bio plastic does degrade, and that it does biodegrade, though not as quickly as compostable plastic degrades in an industrial composting unit. However, most compostable plastics will not readily degrade at all in the open environment. The report also confirms that oxo-bio plastic contains no heavy metals and is not toxic, that it is safe for direct food contact, and that there is no evidence of bio-accumulation nor of any harmful effect on the environment.

    A Report published by the Environment Agency of the UK Government in February 2011  shows that oxo-bio plastic bags have a better LCA than compostable plastic bags.

    The market for oxo-biodegradable plastic is not mature. The whole oxo-bio industry has less than 1% of the plastic products which could and should be made oxo-biodegradable, but appreciation of the benefits of oxo-bio plastic is growing fast all over the world. Symphony alone sold enough d2w last year to make 8 billion plastic products, and is now represented in 92 countries through 67 Distributors.

    With regard to “Sustainable Citizen’s” point about addition-rate – it is true that some oxo-bio additives have to be added at 2%, 3% or even more, but Symphony’s d2w additive has been proved to work very well at only 1%.

    April 27, 2011 Part 6, Discussion on Oxo Degradable Additives
    Dr RossH  replied:


    Discussing landfills:  In most of the western world, landfill space has become very expensive.  The cost to open a new landfill is high with the permitting costs and the land cost itself.  In places like the eastern seaboard of the USA or Europe where the population density is high, there is an incentive to maximise the input that can go into a landfill.  Some of the larger waste management companies are now promoting the use of biodegradable materials to be used in their landfills.   They do not want items that will sit there taking up valuable space like oxo materials do.  Some modern landfills even go to the next step of recirculating the leachate that collects in the bottom of the landfill.  This makes the landfill a proactive bioreactor and allows the spread of bacteria and the moistening of the landfill material which accelerates biodegradation by a significant amount.  All of this allows the landfill to compact down more and allows the operator to continue to dump more material in it, thus reducing their costs.  In some low density areas where land is still low cost, then your point about not wanting landfills to settle after they are closed has merit.  However as our population grows and more trash must be disposed of, those situations will become fewer and further between.

    As for methane collection, the more methane that can be generated the sooner the gas can be harnessed for energy.   This is a good thing.  As I stated before, for countries to become less reliant on other countries for their energy supplies is an important security issue.  Denmark doesn’t get 20% of its power from windmills because they like windmills.

    It seems we agree on compostable materials as having limited applications to recycling. Also for biodegradation because their facilities are few and far between and their trash requires special sorting to separate it out before hand.

    Litter is a real world problem and many of us spend a lot of time picking up litter to remove it.  Some local councils designate a significant part of their budget for litter pick up.  Sad but true.   The reason we pick it up is because it is an eyesore.   The message the oxo manufacturers put out about their product controlling litter does not make sense.  In the reply above the statement, ‘they do not want it to break down immediately because they are designed to be re-used many times’ has two problems with it.  First the oxo additive manufacturer has no control of how the final product manufacturer designs his product, so whether it is designed for many reuses is not under their control.   Second, if the product was designed for a life time equivalent for many uses then the litter with the oxo additive in it will last that long too.  My guess is that typically would be a few years.  I myself do not want to leave litter lying around two years or so before it starts to break down.  When I see litter, I pick it up then and there.  Many city councils also operate weekly litter clean ups.  Litter is ugly to most of us and we are not prepared to let it lie there for a few years just because it has some additive in it that will break it down at some point in the future.  The only time litter is not picked up soon after it is dropped is in some locations where people do not often walk.  The side of a highway is an example.  But even there on busy highways, there are cleanup crews periodically out there picking up litter.  One point that needs clarification is the biodegradation.  If there are no bacteria around there is no biodegradation.  There are not many bacteria around on the ground on the side of a highway.  So this claim by oxo people of biodegradation has to be qualified to biodegrade in the presence of oxygen and bacteria.  If the environment is such that there are bacteria on the side of the highway, then surely, using a biodegradable additive instead is a better alternative.  It may be a little slower due to less surface area to act upon, but the object remains in nearly a single piece during the degradation.  The oxo product would break it down in to thousands of pieces which are more likely to be picked up and blown around the place, or get washed down a waterway.   To me this scenario is a lot worse.  There is no additive solution that I know that will solve a litter problem with plastics and the oxo people should cease to say they have a solution for litter.  Their claim is based on ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and most people know better than that.  They know what is good and what is bad for the environment.

    In the previous post, the Ecopure type of biodegradable additives was described as not suitable for aerobic environments.   This is not true.  These products work in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions.  Tests of non compostable plastic with the additive in it in a compost pile showed good degradation.   The only time they are slow in an aerobic environment is when there are not many bacteria available, which is on the top of the ground, in water etc, but that puts the same restraint on oxo products biodegrading as well.

    With the reference to the statement that 20,000 Daltons as the size the material ceases to become a plastic, I do not understand what the implication was; sorry.  20,000 Daltons is only about 1700 carbon atoms long which is very small.  Was the point that the plastic had to break down to that size before biodegradation would start?  The previous comment from Sustainable Citizen said the molecule had to be 1/20th of the original size before biodegradation could take place.  That is considerably larger. What do your test results show?

    As for recycling of products with an oxo additive in it, the reference given above from the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association says they can be recycled.  However reading between the lines of this makes the reader quite aware of the problems associated with recycling a product that has a time line associated with it before it starts to break down.  How would a recycle facility know if an oxo additive had been added to the original product?  What if the recycled product had a longer life than anticipated before it was sold?  What if it was sold and the customer could not use it for a while?  This site did little to dispel the concerns of recycling oxo degradable plastics.

    Finally the comment of If all the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” had been made with oxo-bio, it would not be there at all, causes me great concern.   I agree that the plastics with an oxo additive in it would have broken down, that is not in question.  However what sets alarm bells off is what happens to these now small plastic fragments.  Saying they are ‘inherently biodegradable’ is fine, but saying they will biodegrade is quite a different thing.  If there are insufficient bacteria in the ocean they will not be biodegrading.  Research shows that as the plastic pieces float through the water they adsorb toxins they come in contact with.  Research articles from people like Captain Charles Moore and others present results of expeditions which have gone out and trawled through the garbage patch with nets, then dissected the fish.  Their results show the fish are ingesting these small pieces of plastic.  The record holder was one fish with 83 pieces of plastic inside its’ stomach.  For the really small shards of plastic that are of the same size as plankton, then the fish and mammals that swim through the water filtering out plankton as food, would also be collecting the plastic and ingesting it.  In the largest gyre, located in the central North Pacific, neuston (surface) trawls lined with 0.333mm mesh yielded the astounding figure of six kilos of plastic fragments for every kilo of zooplankton 40.333mm in size.  Detritus feeders, like the Laysan albatross, have been demonstrated to feed primarily in and around the North Pacific subtropical gyre, and the stomach contents of their chicks, receiving nutriment only by regurgitation from adult birds, contain alarming quantities of plastic.  This presents a real problem for those who eat fish.  Not only are they eating fish that have small pieces of plastic in them, they are also digesting the toxins that were on those plastic shards.  We would be better off to not cause those plastic items to break down but leave them in their original large size and mechanically go collect the trash.  It would be very expensive and I can hear governments saying ‘they didn’t so it so they are not going to pay to clean it up’, but that has to be better than eating the fish described above.  Another comment the oxo group use to confuse people is that once the item has broken down it is gone.  That is not fully true.  It may be gone from sight, but the particles still remain and can be causing damage that we cannot see with our eyes. Only our health in the future will show this, which by then, will be too late and the oxo manufacturers would have already made their returns long ago.


    March 25th 2011

    Republicans of a USA Government Office Scraps Compostable Kitchenware

    Republicans scrap ‘compostable’ utensils in House cafeterias.    Republicans say the use of “compostable” cups and utensils, a key part of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Green the Capitol” initiative, was “neither cost effective nor energy efficient.” So they brought back plastic utensils and foam cups, ditching the eco-friendly dining wares of the Democratic era.
    Read more