Oxo degradeable plastics should be banned – Europe

Posted on November 14, 2017 by DrRossH in Plastic Limiting Regulations
Ellen MacArthur Foundation calls for oxo-degradable plastic packaging ban / Contribution to microplastic pollution
The foundation created by round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur has called for the banning of oxo-degradable plastic packaging until tests can conclusively show the breakdown of the material does not accumulate in and subsequently harm the world’s eco-systems. A guide from the European Committee for Standarization (CEN, Brussels / Belgium; https://www.cen.eu) defines oxidative degradation (oxo-degradation) as “degradation identified as resulting from oxidative cleavage of macromolecules.” Oxo-degradable plastics are polymers, such as LDPE, which have chemicals added to speed up oxidation and breakdown of the material under UV light/heat/oxygen. They are not the same as compostable plastics, which comply with international standards and can be safely biodegraded through composting.

Backed by some of the world’s leading brand names and recycling companies, including Nestlé, L’Oréal and Veolia, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF, Cowes / UK; www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org) said that by its nature, oxo-degradable plastics are not suited for long-term reuse, recycling at scale or composting, and do not allow materials and products to be kept in high-value use.

In its call for the material to be banned, the foundation said that packaging made from oxo-degradable plastics is not a solution to soil and marine pollution, and it actually contributes to microplastic pollution and poses an environmental risk. It also notes that marketing oxo-degradable plastics as a solution to littering, by claiming they are degradable, could confuse consumers and “may actually incentivise littering.” Such plastics fragment into smaller pieces, including microplastics, and while invisible to the naked eye, this fragmentation is different from biodegradation, it added. The foundation also took aim at plastic packaging that contains “similar chemical additives … for which claims of accelerated biodegradation are made,” including enzyme-mediated degradable plastics.

Trade groups have long highlighted the problems of oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable plastics getting into the recycling scheme. Last year, the British Plastics Federation (BPF, London / UK; www.bpf.co.uk) warned that it was very important to understand that the quality of recyclate was a top priority for recyclers “and even the perception that these materials could find their way into the recycling stream could undermine the reputation and integrity of this sector” – see Plasteurope.com of 15.08.2016