Call for oxodegradable plastics ban wins support

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Compostable film from Futamura (formerly known as Innovia Films)
Compostable film from Futamura (formerly known as Innovia Films)

Related tags Biodegradation European commission

More than 150 organisations, including leading UK brand-owners, have backed a November call by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) for a ban on oxodegradable plastics in packaging, including carrier bags.

A statement from the EMF’s New Plastics Economy initiative points to ‘overwhelming’ available evidence suggesting that oxodegradable plastics fragment and contribute to microplastic pollution, rather than being readily biodegradable or compostable.

“We felt our intervention was needed because the effects of these plastics can be quite destructive, and there is increased interest in them across some African and Middle-Eastern countries, in particular,”​ said Michiel De Smet, project manager for the New Plastics Economy.

Additive that triggers disintegration

Oxodegradable (sometimes called ‘oxo-biodegradable’) plastics are standard oil-derived polymers with an additive that triggers disintegration under conditions, such as the presence of oxygen.

Last year, environmental consultancy Eunomia compiled a report on oxodegradables for the European Commission, which is currently assessing EU-level policy in this area.

It assessed 13 hypotheses regarding these materials, concluding that they should not be considered compostable, do not biodegrade in landfill, but do accelerate fragmentation in the open.

However, in key areas the report was inconclusive. The central claim that they ‘biodegrade’ following fragmentation was ‘partially supported’, said Eunomia.

Denying any negative impact

Importantly, four hypotheses denying any negative impact from oxodegradables on recycling were refuted by the report.

“Any product will break down over time, but the question is, how long does it take to completely biodegrade?”​ asked De Smet.

There have been positive studies about their performance, but many of these have been funded by the companies that produce them.

In a statement, the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association called the EMF statement “counter-productive and confusing”.

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