Over 150 organizations back call to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging

What are oxo-degradable plastics?

Oxo-degradable plastics are conventional polymers (e.g. LDPE) to which chemicals are added to accelerate the oxidation and fragmentation of the material under the action of UV light and/or heat, and oxygen. Oxo-degradable plastics should not be confused with compostable plastics that comply with international standards and can be safely biodegraded through (industrial) composting.

Oxo-degradable plastic packaging, including single-use bags, are often marketed as a solution to plastic pollution, with claims that such plastics degrade into harmless residues within a period ranging from a few months to several years. However, as outlined in a new statement by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, significant evidence indicates that oxo-degradable plastics do not degrade into harmless residues, but instead fragment into tiny pieces of plastic and contribute to microplastic pollution, posing a risk to the ocean and other ecosystems, potentially for decades to come.

Why ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging?

Plastic Pollution Coalition joins over 150 organizations worldwide endorsing the new statement that proposes banning oxo-degradable plastic packaging worldwide. 

“The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests oxo-degradable plastics do not achieve what their producers claim and instead contribute to microplastic pollution. In addition, these materials are not suited for effective long-term reuse, recycling at scale or composting, meaning they cannot be part of a circular economy,” said Rob Opsomer, Lead for Systemic Initiatives at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“Using oxo-degradable additives is not a solution for litter. Their use in waste management systems will likely cause negative outcomes for the environment and communities,” said Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research and Development, World Wildlife Fund. “When public policy supports the cascading use of materials – systems where materials get reused over and over, this strengthens economies and drives the development of smarter materials management systems. This leads to wins for both the environment and society.”

As a result of the significant body of evidence raising concerns about the potential negative impacts of plastic fragments from oxo-degradable plastics, an increasing number of companies and governments have started to take action to restrict their use, in particular in Europe. For example, in the UK retailers such as Tesco and the Co-operative stopped the use of oxo-degradable plastics in their carrier bags. France banned the use of oxo-degradable plastics altogether in 2015.

However, oxo-degradable plastics are still produced in many European countries, including the UK, and marketed across the world as safely biodegradable. Several countries in the Middle-East and Africa, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Ghana and Togo, are still promoting the use of oxo-degradable plastics or have even made their use mandatory.

To create a plastics system that works, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, together with the signing organizations, supports innovation that designs out waste and pollution, and keeps products and materials in high-value use in line with the principles of a circular economy.

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4 responses to “Over 150 organizations back call to ban oxo-degradable plastic packaging”

  1. Oxodegradable as oxofragmentable or hydro-fragmentable plastics degrade and fragment into small particles that contaminate and may lie for ages in the environment.

    BUT oxodegradable plastic should not be confused with oxobiodegradable plastic. The oxobiodegradable technology is defined by CEN (the European Standards Organisation) {CEN/TR 1535–2006} as "degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively."

    The oxobiodegradable technology is a two stage process.

    1 – Degradation: During abiotic degradation polymers undergo free radical oxidation reactions which results in chain cleavage, to produce reduced molecular weight oxidation products (Alcohol, Ketone, Aldehyde, carboxylic acid and others). This process is an ongoing process it is initiated in ambient conditions when exposed to oxygen from air/water and accelerated by exposure to UV light and/or increased temperature.
    2- Biodegradation: The low molecular weight oxidation by-products that form after the abiotic degradation stage are consumed by microorganisms, in the same way as degradation compounds produced by dead plants. As a result, CO2, water and Biomass.

    The oxobiodegradation technology has been extensively tested by many laboratories around the world it has been proven safe and effective.

    Oxobiodegradable plastic are tested according to ASTM D6954 or BS8472 or AFNOR Accord T51-808 and the low mass by-products resulting from the first stage process can be tested according to EN 13432.

    One oxobiodegradable producer is awarded an internationally-recognized Eco-label. The Eco-Label proves the environmental credentials of d2w and distinguishes it from all other oxo-biodegradable additives on the market, helping to enhance the ‘green value’ of the brand.

    The oxobiodegradable technology and the EU.

    In the final stage of the political decision-making process amending EU Directive 94/62
    about reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags the legislator
    adopted an article in 2015 that required the European Commission to “present a
    report to the European Parliament and to the Council, examining the impact of the
    use of oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags on the environment and present a
    legislative proposal, if appropriate”.

    To help the Commission with its assessment of the impact of oxobiodegradable plastic carrier bags on the environment it commissioned a report from the independent technical-scientific consultancy firm Eunomia Research & Consulting. This report was published on 6 April 2017.
    The politically most notable finding of the Eunomia report is that “The debate around
    the biodegradability of PAC plastic is not finalized, but should move forward from the
    assertion that PAC plastics merely fragment, towards confirming whether the
    timeframes observed for total biodegradation are acceptable from an environmental
    point of view and whether this is likely to take place in natural environments.” The Eunomia report confirms that oxobiodegradable plastics do biodegrade.

    No country around the world till today has banned oxobiodegradable plastics.

  2. The oxobiodegradable technology and the EU.

    In the final stage of the political decision-making process amending EU Directive 94/62
    about reducing the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags the legislator
    adopted an article in 2015 that required the European Commission to “present a
    report to the European Parliament and to the Council, examining the impact of the
    use of oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags on the environment and present a
    legislative proposal, if appropriate”.

    To help the Commission with its assessment of the impact of oxobiodegradable plastic carrier bags on the environment it commissioned a report from the independent technical-scientific consultancy firm Eunomia Research & Consulting. This report was published on 6 April 2017.
    The politically most notable finding of the Eunomia report is that “The debate around
    the biodegradability of PAC plastic is not finalized, but should move forward from the
    assertion that PAC plastics merely fragment, towards confirming whether the
    timeframes observed for total biodegradation are acceptable from an environmental
    point of view and whether this is likely to take place in natural environments.” The Eunomia report confirms that oxobiodegradable plastics do biodegrade.

    No country around the world till today has banned oxobiodegradable plastics.

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