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Issue 06/2015

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  • Bioplastics
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News daily upated news

News daily upated news at ECM BioFilms claims are “false, misleading, and unsubstantiated” says FTC In February, bioplastics MAGAZINE reported on the initial decision handed down at the end of January by Chief Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell regarding the biodegradability claims of ECM Biofilms Inc. In this Initial Decision, Judge Chappell found that ECM violated Section 5 of the FTC Act because its express claims, that ECM Plastics would biodegrade plastics within nine months to five years, were not supported by the evidence. Now, the Federal Trade Commission has announced its Opinion and Final Order against Ohio-based ECM BioFilms, Inc., finding that the company acted deceptively by making false and unsubstantiated environmental claims about its product, a chemical additive that supposedly would make treated plastics biodegrade in a landfill within nine months to five years or within a reasonably short period of time, as alleged in an administrative complaint announced against ECM in 2013. The Commission’s Final Order and Opinion come two years after its issued an administrative complaint against ECM and ten months after the Initial Decision issued by FTC Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Chappell. KL Microplastics in the environment – conference in Cologne The first international conference on Microplastics in the Environment, organised by the nova-Institute on 23 – 24 November 2015 in Cologne, Germany attracted 170 participants from 20 countries. The delegates received first-hand information on the sources and impacts of microplastics in the environment and discussed possible solutions. Sources: Plastic particles with a diameter smaller than 5 mm are referred to as microplastics. These can be secondary fragments created by the breaking up of larger pieces of plastic such as packaging materials, or fibres that are washed out of textiles. They can also be primary plastic particles produced in microscopic sizes. These include particles used in cosmetics and in other applications. Impacts: Marine litter is known to have negative effects on the health of more than 600 species. More than half of these ingest or become entangled in plastic debris. The components of microplastics can be toxic or cause endocrine disruption. In addition, marine organisms that swallow plastic microparticles may potentially ingest higher doses of persistent organic pollutants sticking to the surface of these microplastics. This poses the risk of toxic substances accumulating in the food web and harming a variety of animal species and also human beings. Biodegradable plastics as a solution? Presentations about biodegradable plastics, e.g. made from cassava starch, from cellulosic feedstock or PHA discussed potential solutions for the problem. Outcome: The discussions during the conference showed that microplastics from cosmetic products play only a minor but avoidable role in the pollution of the environment. The problem of marine littering is also related to larger pieces of plastic waste entering the environment – as these are sources for microplastics due to the fragmentation processes over time. Many sources could be identified (hand wash, toothpaste, detergents, cleaners, tyre abrasion, road paints, granulates on playgrounds, etc.) but there is still a huge need for research on entrance pathways (fate of microplastic particles) and quantities ending up in the environment. However, much of the problem is human behaviour. And as Ramani Narayan (Michigan State University) put it: “Marine environment is not a disposal environment and therefore designing for biodegradability in a marine environment is not a solution.” And: “Products such as microbeads for cosmetic purposes should be designed that they biodegrade in the waste water treatment plants. They should never even reach the oceans.” MT 6 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/15] Vol. 10

News Current biodegradable plastics can’t solve marine debris problem A United Nations report that aimed to verify a thesis that plastics considered biodegradable may play an important role in reducing marine litter, has released findings that indicate that this thesis won’t fly. The report, entitled ‘Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter. Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environments’, found that complete biodegradation of plastics occurs in conditions that are rarely, if ever, met in marine environments. There is also limited evidence suggesting that labelling products as biodegradable increases the public’s inclination to litter, as some people are attracted by technological solutions as an alternative to changing behaviour. Labelling a product as biodegradable may be seen as a technical fix that removes responsibility from the individual, resulting in a reluctance to take action. “Recent estimates from UNEP have shown as much as 20 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in a press release. Most of these are conventional plastics that do not biodegrade, either in marine, or any other environment [MT]. Biodegradable plastics, which biodegrade under favourable conditions on land, are much slower to break up in the ocean and their widespread adoption is likely to contribute to marine litter and consequent undesirable consequences for marine ecosystems. The study also analyzed the environmental impacts of oxo-degradable plastics, enriched with a pro oxidant, such as manganese, which precipitates their fragmentation. It found that in marine environments the fragmentation is fairly slow and can take up to 5 years, during which the plastic objects continue to litter the ocean. And they will never biodegrade into CO 2 and water, in any conditions or in any environment whatsoever [MT]. According to UNEP, oxo-degradable plastics can pose a threat to marine ecosystems even after fragmentation. The report says it should be assumed that microplastics created in the fragmentation process remain in the ocean, where they can be ingested by marine organisms and facilitate the transport of harmful microbes, pathogens and algal species. The report more or less confirms what many in the industry have known for a long time, and it contains important information for the public at large – both as regards oxo-fragmentable plastics and biodegradable plastics. Well-written and well-researched, it is by no means an attack on biobased plastics, but rather an attempt to get a message out and to create awareness. As its authors put it: “Assessing the impact of plastics in the environment, and communicating the conclusions to a disparate audience is challenging. The science itself is complex and multidisciplinary. Some synthetic polymers are made from biomass and some from fossil fuels, and some can be made from either. Polymers derived from fossil fuels can be biodegradable. Conversely, some polymers made from biomass sources, such as sugar cane, may be non-biodegradable. Apart from the polymer composition, material behaviour is linked to the environmental setting, which can be very variable in the ocean. The conditions under which biodegradable polymers will actually biodegrade vary widely.” Very true. So biodegradable polymers, at least those that are currently available, are not the answer. What is? A large part of the solution is most probably human behaviour. KL/MT Photo: M. Thielen, 2015 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/15] Vol. 10 7

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