8 June 2020 by James Langley

Industry calls for ban on oxo-degradable plastics

A group of trade associations and Greenpeace has called on the government to implement a total ban on so-called oxo-degradable plastics.

Oxo-degradable material is often found in products such as plastic bags. The coalition claims it contains additives meant to accelerate the fragmentation of plastics into microplastics. The oxo-degradable sector holds a different view.

The letter says oxo-degradable plastics have been found intact in the sea and in soil after three years (picture: Shutterstock)

In an open letter to the environment secretary, signatories including the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and Recoup call on George Eustice to ban the use, sale and distribution of oxo-degradable plastics in the UK.

The letter reads: “As the UK is now in the process of revising legislation on the use of plastic packaging, now is the time to act.

“Overwhelming scientific evidence, including research commissioned by DEFRA and the EU, has demonstrated beyond doubt that the claims these additives transform polyolefin plastics into biodegradable plastics are unfounded.

“It is scientifically well-known that all polyolefin plastics are naturally prone to oxidation under environmental conditions.

“Such oxidation ultimately leads to fragmentation and formation of microplastics, which build up in oceans and in soil.”

The full list of signatories to the open letter includes the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA), the ESA, the Foodservice Packaging Association (FPA), Greenpeace, A Plastic Planet, REA and Recoup.

Oxo-degradable

The letter claims that in accelerating the conversion of macroplastics into microplastics, oxo-additives do not solve the problem of plastic pollution but worsen it.

“Claims these additives transform polyolefin plastics into biodegradable plastics are unfounded”

Open letter to the Environment Secretary George Eustice

And, it cites research undertaken by the University of Plymouth in 2019 that oxo-degradable plastics remained intact in the sea and in soil for three years.

In November 2017, a call for a ban on oxo-degradable plastics was endorsed by the BBIA along with more than 150 other companies (see letsrecycle.com story).

Led by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, this coalition of companies reiterated their demands in 2018.

In March 2020, Wales introduced legislation to ban oxo-degradable plastics as part of its single use plastic ban (see letsrecycle.com story). 

Europe

In March 2019 the European Parliament approved measures aimed at tackling marine litter by limiting the use of disposable plastic.

Restrictions prohibiting the placing on the market of oxo-degradable plastic are to come into force on 3 July 2021.

The open letter addresses the European ban, saying: “Whilst the UK has left the EU we have retained the ambition to achieve at least the equivalent of European environmental norms.

“At the same time, were the UK to allow these plastics, anything containing them or packaged in them could not be exported to EU markets.”

Useful links 

The open letter can be read here.

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