Technological watch

K 2019: Setting the record straight on oxo-biodegradable plastics

It’s been a hard slog for companies that make an additive that actually helps plastics biodegrade faster in the presence of oxygen. Oxo-biodegradable additives are intended for plastics that get into the open environment—including the marine environment—to offset the carelessness of people who litter and the lack of collection, recycling or incineration infrastructure.  

Over the past few years, the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA; London) has been fighting for recognition by the EU for its member companies’ right to be a viable part of the circular economy, not part of an over-arching ban. It was understandably frustrated by the passage on March 27, 2019, of a law banning single-use plastics in the European Union. The Single-Use Plastics Directive confuses oxo-biodegradable with oxo-degradable plastics, a persistent misunderstanding. Oxo-biodegradable plastics have even gotten pushback from the bioplastics industry, which claims that they will contribute to more waste in the environment.

The oxo-biodegradable industry is fighting back, citing many years of testing and studies showing that the oxo-biodegradable additive helps plastics that escape into the environment degrade much faster than ordinary plastics. Oxo-degradable plastic, on the other hand, is essentially ordinary plastic that degrades and fragments into smaller and smaller pieces but does not break down at the molecular or polymeric level. Thus, explains information from the OPA, it does not biodegrade except over a very long period of time.

In November 2018, UK-based Symphony Environmental Technologies welcomed a report from distinguished lawyer and former Deputy Judge of the High Court in England, Peter Susman, QC, that declared the scientific case for oxo-biodegradable technologies to be “clear and compelling.”

Symphony Environmental Technologies will be at K 2019 (stand B 40, hall 8) showcasing its new products and helping to educate people about the advantages of oxo-biodegradable materials. The company is one of the leading producers of oxo-biodegradable plastic products, which are now mandatory in 12 countries. Michael Stephen, Deputy Chairman of Symphony and Chairman of OPA, described the EU as following a “very bizarre procedure.”

In an interview with PlasticsToday, Stephen noted that the EU is “evading its own laws and procedures for banning or restricting substances as enacted in the REACH regulation going back to 2006, which sets out the entire process that must be followed before banning a product, including getting a scientific dossier from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA),” he explained. “Then it goes to two committees that review all the pertinent information and then to the public for input. In the case of oxo-biodegradable plastic materials, the EU went straight from A to Z and ignored everything in between.”

Publication date: 07/10/2019

Plastics Today

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Last update: 2020-07-14