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IK Working Group Q&A – Proves they know nothing about oxo-biodegradable plastic

April 11th, 2017

OPA responds to Q&A from IK working Group.

The vegetable-based plastics industry has been trying to denigrate oxo-biodegradable plastics for many years. Why are they doing this? because they are trying to take market share by unfair means. – Now here’s a shocker –  on 4th April 2017, “Bio-based News” published a set of Q&A by “IK Working Group on Bioplastics.’” Both of these are lobby groups for vegetable-based plastic which do not understand oxo-biodegradable technology.

Here, the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA) addresses these Questions and Answers.

Q1 – What are oxo-biodegradable Plastics?

IK working Group Answer   –  “Oxo-degradable plastics” are conventional plastics for example PE, PP and  PS which are provided with special additives during the plastics processing. The additives shall support the disintegration of products and make them into small fragments

Misleading because it forgets to state that all plastics (whether oxo, bio-based, or conventional) create fragments when they degrade.  The point about oxo-biodegradable fragments is that by the fragmentation stage the plastic has been converted into materials with a low molecular weight which can be consumed by micro-organisms in the same way as a leaf.  They will not therefore lie or float around in the environment for decades.

If oxo-biodegradable plastic merely fragmented without biodegrading, CEN would not have defined oxo-biodegradability as “degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively” and the American, British and French Standards authorities would not have included tests for biodegradability in ASTM D6954, BS8472 and AC T51-808.

2 – Are oxo-degradable plastics some kind of bioplastics?

IK working Group Answer  – The proof of complete biodegradability can be shown for example in accordance with the requirements of  the European Standard EN13432 

It was already scientifically proven that “oxo-degradable plastics” cannot fulfill these requirements 2 . Whilst the fragmentation of “oxo-degradable plastics” through the influence of additives, oxygen and light is proven undoubtedly as a general rule, the complete biodegradation of fragments (also micro plastics depending on their size) is questioned by many experts, because it is just a fragmention of plastics into visible and invisible pieces of plastic material.

From the perspective of the IK Working Group the term “oxo-fragmentable plastics” or “thermo- or photo-fragmentable plastics” is a more suitable description. There are currently no standards or certifications for the group of oxo-, photo- or thermo-degradable plastics or plastic products in Europe

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is a bioplastic in the sense that it converts rapidly at the end of its useful life into biodegradable materials.  However the term, “bioplastic” has been appropriated by the industry which makes plastics derived from vegetable sources – to which they have added 60% or more of material derived from oil.

EN 13432 (and its American equivalent ASTM D6400) are designed to test biodegradation in the special conditions found in industrial composting, and are not therefore relevant to oxo-biodegradable plastic, which is designed to biodegrade if it gets into the open environment. Those standards require rapid conversion to CO2 gas, so the plastic does not contribute anything of value to the soil, and these types of plastic should not be marketed as “compostable.” Unlike oxo-biodegradable plastic, they cannot be recycled with conventional plastic.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is tested according to British Standard 8472 or American D6954 or French AC T51-808 or Swedish SPCR 141 to prove that it is biodegradable. There will always be questions raised about its biodegradability so long as it is in the commercial interests of its detractors to do so, but extensive testing by universities and scientific test-houses has now proved beyond doubt that it is biodegradable by micro-organisms found on land and found in the oceans.

Some people believe that if something is derived (at least in part) from biomass then it can be described as a bioplastic and must also be biodegradable, but this is not so. For example the type of plastic made in Brazil from sugar cane has been polymerised and is no more biodegradable than ordinary plastic.

See also “Bad news for compostable plastics from German Courts”

http://www.biodeg.org/Bad%20news%20for%20compostable%20plastics%20from%20German%20Courts%20-%20%20%203-10-14.pdf

Germans Reject “compostable” plastic and say EN13432 and ASTMD-6400 are “defective and irrelevant https://woodsend.org/2014/03/european-soil-industry-visits-controversy-biodegradable-plastics/

Facts about biodegradable Plastics  http://www.biodeg.org/EU%20Plastics%20industry%20advises%20against%20bio-based%20plastic.pdf

IK Working Group Answer – There are currently no standards or certifications for the group of oxo-photo- or thermo-degradable plastics or plastic products in Europe.

Wrong –British Standard 8472; French AC T51-808, and Swedish SPCR 141 have all been written for oxo-biodegradable plastic.

3 – So-called “oxo-degradable plastics” may contain catalysts for example cobalt and or manganese.  What are the possible impacts of the catalysts on health and Environment?

IK working Group Answer  – Possible impacts of catalysts for „oxo-degradable plastics“ on health and environment are discussed. Concrete results of research do not exist at the moment

The residues are completely harmless, as proved by the OECD eco-toxicity tests  required by the standards for oxo-biodegradable plastics.  It is also proved by scientific tests that they do NOT include any metals exceeding the limits permitted by Annex A.1.2 of EN 13432 (and Art 11.1 of the EU Packaging Waste Directive 94/62/EC).

4 – Do “Oxo-degradable plastics” for example polyethylene hinder the recycling of plastics?

According to  the IK Working Group – European Bioplastics expressed major concerns

“European Bioplastics” is another lobby group for vegetable-based plastic.  However, because of these concerns the oxo-biodegradable plastics industry commissioned tests by specialist test houses in Austria and South Africa, who have found that oxo-biodegradable plastic can be safely recycled in the same waste stream as ordinary plastic. See: http://www.biodeg.org/recycling.html

Those same test-houses have found that bio-based plastic cannot be safely recycled with ordinary plastic.

5 – Are there legal requirements for oxo-biodegradable plastics?

IK working Group State the following:

In the amendment of the EU Packaging Directive of 2015 the EU Parliament and Commission demand the investigation of plastic bags made of oxo-biodegradable plastic concerning their environmental impacts and polluting potential and propose measures against these products if necessary.  In France such products were already prohibited in law.  In the United States the manufacturers in California are not allowed to promote “oxo-degradable plastics” with the definition bio-degradable

The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association has worked with the EU Commission and the consultants engaged by them, as it is necessary to deal once and for all with the misinformation disseminated by the vegetable-based plastics companies.  The Commission have been supplied with a 400-page dossier of scientific and technical reports proving degradability, biodegradability and non-toxicity beyond doubt, and proving that oxo-biodegradable plastic can be safely recycled with ordinary plastic. There are no adverse impacts and no polluting potential.

France has prohibited oxo-fragmentable plastic (whatever that is) which cannot be proved to be biodegradable, and the French government has never asked the OPA for evidence about oxo-biodegradable plastic.  By contrast eleven countries in the world, the most recent being Saudi Arabia, have made it mandatory to use oxo-biodegradable plastic for plastic bags, packaging, and other everyday plastic items.

In California the advertising restrictions apply to vegetable-based as well as oxo-biodegradable, plastics and the California government has never published evidence sufficient to justify this draconian restraint of trade.  By contrast the Federal Trade Commission for the whole United States does not prevent a plastic product being described as biodegradable provided that the claim is substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature, i.e., decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.

With regard to plastic marketed as “compostable” the FTC said in its 2012 Green Guide that “It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product or package is compostable.”  They also said that it is not sufficient to show that a test item had complied with ASTM D6400 (the US equivalent of EN 13432), because those standards “likely do not typify compost facility operations nationwide.   Rather they reflect “optimum [operating] conditions and ignore wide variation in actual facility operations.  Because of these variations, the ASTM protocols likely do not replicate typical compost facility environments.”

In addition, it is unlikely that a plastic marketed as complying with ASTM D6400 (or EN13432) would break down into or otherwise become part of usable compost.  This is because these standards require the plastic to break down substantially into CO2 gas within 180 days.   The gas is typically released to atmosphere where it contributes to climate-change but it does not become part of usable compost.

These plastics should not therefore be described as “compostable” and marketers may risk prosecution in the USA if they are so described.

In Europe – the EU Commission has said that advertising a packaging product as biodegradable when in fact it will not readily biodegrade in natural conditions can be misleading for the consumer. Products marketed as compliant with EN13432 or their equivalents are only tested to biodegrade in industrial composting facilities in controlled conditions, and they should not therefore be described as “biodegradable.”

6 – Is it possible to reach ecological aims with the use of “oxo-biodegradable plastics”

IK Working Group Answer – From an ecological aspect the fragmentation of products made of “oxo-degradable plastics” is not comparable with material recycling, energy recovery or biodegradation. Generally the IK-Working Group considers that the fragmentation of plastics is not a solution to the litter problem (careless throwing away of used packaging into the landscape). It is rather a problem of behaviour, education and control, which can only be reduced by certain measures in these fields. The fragmentation of products made of “oxo-degradable plastics” in water and oceans is a very slow process (> 2–5 years) and the fragments amplify the actual “Marine Litter” problem by entering microplastics into rivers, lakes and oceans.

If oxo-biodegradable plastics get into the open environment they will biodegrade in the same way as a leaf, unlike other forms of plastic which will fragment and then lie or float around for decades.  Under normal conditions this will happen in less than 2-5 years, but even 2-5 years is a lot better than 2-5 decades.  However, if collected during their useful life, oxo-biodegradable plastics are perfectly compatible with material recycling and energy recovery.  See  http://www.biodeg.org/recycling.html

Littering is indeed a problem of behaviour, education and control, but it will be many years, if ever, before those policies are effective to the point that there is no plastic litter.  In fact, the kind of people who throw plastic litter do not care whether it is bio-degradable or not and are never likely to do so.   In the meantime, governments cannot ignore the many thousands of tonnes of plastic litter which are getting into the open environment every week, and they must urgently encourage a switch to oxo-biodegradable plastics which will biodegrade in the open environment in the same way as nature’s wastes.

Life cycle assessments (see http://www.biodeg.org/lifecycleassessments.htlm)

have shown that oxo-biodegradable plastic is more environmentally friendly than bio-based plastic, paper and cotton re-usable bags when energy, land use, water, fertilizers, fuel and emissions are considered.

7 – What about promotional statements of oxo-degradable plastics relating to biodegradable plastics?

– “Due to promotional statements for plastic bags like “oxo-biodegradability” the consumer may have the impression that these are biodegradable products, tested and certified according to EN 13432.  European Bioplastics considers this as a possible negative influence on the image of biodegradable plastics, responding to the strict criteria of EN 13432”

Most consumers have never heard of EN 13432, but if they have read it, they will know that it is a standard for biodegradation of plastics in an industrial composting unit only. Oxo-biodegradable products are not intended to conform to the biodegradability section of EN13432 and do not pretend to do so.

Constant reference to this standard by the vegetable-based plastics companies is disingenuous, and may also lead consumers to believe that their product produces useful compost and/or that it is compostable in home composting units – neither of which are true.  Nor does it give any assurance that their product will biodegrade if it escapes collection and ends up in the open environment.

Finally, in proffering this Q&A, the IK Working Group have demonstrated that they know very little about oxo-biodegradable technology – they should confine their remarks to vegetable based plastics which they do understand. No doubt they are hoping that when reproduced by sympathetic media (such as their own Bio-based News”) it will give vegetable-based plastic products an advantage in the marketplace which they do not deserve on merit.

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