Biodegradable packaging additive claims spark debate

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Claims into packaging with ‘enhanced biodegradability’ are underway
Claims into packaging with ‘enhanced biodegradability’ are underway

Related tags Packaging & labelling

Numerous commercial trials of a packaging additive said to “enhance biodegradability” in landfill and the ocean, while not interfering with recycling, and which can be added to standard fossil-derived plastics, are under way.

However, the substance is coming under close scrutiny following ambitious claims made by the additive supplier and by converters.

Macpac is producing the UK’s latest commercialised example for products including cupcakes and mince pies under the Oggs brand. Under its own BreakdownPET name, Macpac is providing Oggs with 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), which remains fully recyclable but which also, if sent to landfill, “breaks down to biomass within a decade”,​ according to the converter.

‘Designed to enhance biodegradation’

However, Canadian-based firm Breakdown Plastic (BDP), which supplies eponymously-named additive used by Macpac, among others, only claims on its website that it is “designed to enhance biodegradation”​ in a loading of just 1% by weight. The firm was invited to comment on claims made about BDP.

Rafael Auras, professor at Michigan State University School of Packaging in the US has carried out extensive research into biodegradability.

With regard to the tests I’ve seen up to now, I’ve not seen any compelling data that these types of additive technologies render regular, non-biodegradable polymers, such as polyolefins, biodegradable,”​ he told Food Manufacture.

Limited evidence

In a statement, Oggs chief executive Hannah Carter referred to its packaging being “100% biodegradable in landfill”. ​In fact, Breakdown Plastics has said that 60 days of testing under ASTM D5511 conditions produced 12.6% of “enhanced biodegradation”,​ and that no testing was carried out beyond this point. In research terms, it is impossible to extrapolate 100% biodegradation from this limited evidence.

The US-based ASTM D5511 is not a composting standard and offers no pass/no-pass criteria, unlike the EN13432 standard, for example.

In the past, Breakdown Plastic has contrasted the microbial activity of BDP with the straightforward fragmentation said to occur with oxo-degradable additives.

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Breakdown Plastic

Posted by Paul Gander,

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ryan. There are a few points to be made here, and I want to respond to your claims in full, since there are some serious and unfounded allegations here.

1. Journalist v editor. Your 22/1 comment title mentions 'the editor'. The editor is not involved in this. I am a freelance journalist who just happens to have written for Food Manufacture for the past 20 years or so.

2. Your emailed responses. For whatever reason, I never saw these. I was looking out for them, but they never came into my inbox. As you know, I also tried to call your UK representative, left a message, and got no response. Believe it or not, as a professional journalist, I would have welcomed having commentary from you to include, in order to give a balanced story. Why would I go to the trouble of researching a company, formulating questions and sending them to different recipients at your business if my intention all along was to ignore or bin your answers?

3. Accuracy. In your 19/1 response, you accuse me of posting 'false information'. This is itself false. All the information I used came from your own website, your customers' communications or generic comments from expert third parties. So where does the 'falsity' and 'fake news' come in? You talk about a 'retraction', but on this basis, it's not clear what there is to 'retract'.

4. Motivation. In your 19/1 comment, you suggest that my 'goal' in writing the article might be linked to the oxo-degradable lobby. In your 22/1 post, you suggest that the story is actually all about 'the recycling mafia' putting pressure on me. In fact, no one puts pressure of this sort on me, and I have no interests to declare in these or other related areas. I have, over the years, put difficult questions to to the oxo lobby, bioplastics manufacturers, other materials sectors and recyclers. No one has responded quite like you.

5. Follow-up. You have asked for an article giving more of your side of the story, and including some of the material that never reached me. I'm happy to look at that. However, the process is not helped by you making groundless personal attacks on my journalistic integrity and motivation.

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The editor ‘didn’t get my responses’.

Posted by Ryan,

So i received an email from Paul Gander saying he never received my email, in which I responded with the email sent, date and time. The email showed all of my responses in detail, sent by way of a ‘reply all’ so no chance of junk mail. What do you all think? Pressure from the recycling mafia to slag biodegradable technology? Let me know on twitter or instagram. Let’s hold journalists accountable for reporting stories that are not founded on facts and evidence. There is too much of this going on today and its time to stop it.

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This article is inaccurate

Posted by Ryan Jesse,

I am the founder of Breakdown Plastic and i gave a detailed email interview Paul Gander, validating our technology. He didn’t print anything i said, except for the ‘out of context’ part where he quoted the test report we had a client do, that said ‘no further testing was carried out’. He took this to mean that we had no long term testing. In fact, this was specific to the test report as the standard requires 30 days to substantiate biodegradability claims. This client did 60 days and didn’t carry the test further. If Paul was a good journalist, he would have reported what i said in my email response, that we have over 4 year long term testing showing over 90% biodegradation. It’s sad that someone would post false information like this, even after having the information from us. We donate a portion of our profits to plastic clean up organizations in an effort to help clean up our mess, at the same time offering a solution to plastic, giving it a natural end of life in ocean, landfill, soil even compost facilities. We have over 30 intertek reports on biodegradation in all of the above environments, even toxicity testing showing no microplastics remain. But Paul ignored all this and just wrote virtue signalling propaganda. I wonder, what was the goal in writing this fake news? Maybe because a large competitor in the uk who is peddling oxo degradable has made false claims that we have no testing? Facts don’t care about feelings. And we have facts, data, evidence, and testing to back up our claims. Let’s see his response and see if he is willing to face me and face the facts and print a retraction and then a proper article about how Breakdown Plastic is here to Change plastic for Good.

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