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Basics Position Paper

Basics Position Paper ‘Oxo-Biodegradable‘ Plastics In this issue bioplastics MAGAZINE publishes an extract of the recently published Position Paper of European Bioplastics. The complete document can be downloaded from Introduction Bioplastics are either biobased or biodegradable or both. European Bioplastics, as the industry association for such materials is distancing itself from the so-called ‘oxobiodegradables‘ industry. Terms such as ‘degradable‘, ‘biodegradable‘, ‘oxodegradable‘, ‘oxo-biodegradable‘ are used to promote products made with traditional plastics supplemented with specific additives. Products made with this technology and available on the market include film applications such as shopping bags, agricultural mulch films and most recently certain plastic bottles. There are serious concerns amongst many plastics, composting and waste management experts that these products do not meet their claimed environmental promises. In this position paper, European Bioplastics, the international organisation representing the certified Bioplastics and Biopolymer industries outlines the issues and questions concerned in order to support consumers, retailers and the plastics industry in identifying unsubstantiated and misleading product claims. Terminology Producers of pro-oxidant additives use the term ‘oxobiodegradable’ for their products. This term suggests that the products can undergo (complete) biodegradation. However, main effect of oxidation is fragmentation into small particles, which remain in the environment. Therefore the term ‘oxo-fragmentation’ does better describe the typical degradation process, which can occur to these products, under some specific environmental conditions. European Bioplastics considers the use of terms such as biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable etc. without reference to existing standards as misleading and as such not reproducible and verifiable. Under these conditions the term ‘oxo-biodegradable‘ is free of substance. (...) On the other hand, the terms ‘biodegradable and compostable‘ enjoy a different status. There are internationally established and acknowledged standards that effectively substantiate claims on biodegradation and compostability such as ISO 17088. (...) The specification of time needed for the ultimate biodegradation is an essential requirement for any serious claim on biodegradability. Therefore, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has advised companies “that unqualified biodegradable claims are acceptable only if they have scientific evidence that their product will completely decompose within a reasonably short period of time under customary methods of disposal” [1]. (...) The Degradation Process behind the So-called ‘Oxobiodegradable‘ Plastics The ‘oxo-biodegradable‘ additives are typically incorporated in conventional plastics (...) at the moment of conversion into final products. 38 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/09] Vol. 4

Magnetic for Plastics • International Trade in Raw Materials, Machinery & Products Free of Charge These additives are based on chemical catalysts, containing transition metals such as cobalt, manganese, nickel, zinc, etc., which cause fragmentation as a result of a chemical oxidation of the plastics’ polymer chains triggered by UV irradiation or heat exposure. In a second phase, the resulting fragments are claimed to eventually undergo biodegradation. (...) Fragmentation Is Not the Same as Biodegradation Fragmentation of ‘oxo-biodegradable‘ plastics is not the result of a biodegradation process but rather the result of a chemical reaction. The resulting fragments will remain in the environment [2]. The fragmentation is not a solution to the waste problem, but rather the conversion of visible contaminants (the plastic waste) into invisible contaminants (the fragments). This is generally not considered as a feasible manner of solving the problem of plastic waste, as the behavioural problem of pollution by discarding waste in the environment could be even stimulated by these kinds of products. An Answer to Littering or the Promotion of Littering ? Oxo-fragmentable plastic products have been described as a solution to littering problems, whereby they supposedly fragment in the natural environment. In fact, such a concept risks increasing littering instead of reducing it. (...) Accumulation of Plastic Fragments Bears Risks for the Environment If oxo-fragmentable plastics are littered and end up in the landscape they are supposed to start to disintegrate due to the effect of the additives that trigger breakdown. Consequently, plastic fragments would be spread around the surrounding area. As ultimate biodegradability has not been demonstrated for these fragments [3], there is substantial risk of C M Y CM MY CY CMY K • Daily News from the Industrial Sector and the Plastics Markets • Current Market Prices for Plastics. • Buyer’s Guide for Plastics & Additives, Machinery & Equipment, Subcontractors and Services. • Job Market for Specialists and Executive Staff in the Plastics Industry Up-to-date • Fast • Professional bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/09] Vol. 4 39

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