Oxo-Degradable Plastics

So-called ‘oxo-biodegradables’ and other additive-mediated plastics are not bioplastics

Products made with additive-technology and available on the market include film applications such as shopping bags, agricultural mulch films and, most recently, certain plastic bottles. Experts from the plastics industry, waste management, and environment protection voice serious concerns about these products. They claim to be “degradable”, “oxo-degradable”, “oxo-biodegradable”, or “oxo-fragmentable”, and sometimes even “compostable”, without providing any sort of proof for the claims made.

These products are made from conventional plastics and supplemented with specific additives in order to mimic biodegradation. In truth, however, these additives only facilitate a fragmentation of the materials, which do not fully degrade but break down into very small fragments that remain in the environment – a process that would be more accurately described by the term “oxo-fragmentation”.

Claims of „oxo-degradability“ might sound appealing, yet, they are misleading as they cannot be verified due to the absence of a standard specification i.e. an explicit set of requirements to be satisfied by the product.

A self-imposed standard for oxo-degradation merely sets out the parameters on how to test the degradation process, not, however, the results or even criteria for passing the test of degradation. There is currently no internationally established and acknowledged standard or certification process that proves the success of oxo-degradation. Without verifiable proof or certification for the claim, the term “oxo-degradable” is just an appealing marketing term.

Companies offering additive-mediated conventional plastic materials promise a „quick solution“ to countries that have no or nearly no waste management infrastructure, but this promise comes with great dangers to the environment. If these additive-mediated fragmentable plastics are littered and end up in the landscape, they start to disintegrate due to the effect of the additives that trigger the breakdown into fragments, which remain in the environment.

European Bioplastics advocates a more responsible communication about suitable waste management options for specific products and materials. Accepted standards for industrial composting, for example, already exist and are indicated by corresponding labels.

Further reading and external sources:
» European Bioplastics, oxo background paper (2015)
» European Bioplastics, FAQ enzyme mediated plastics (2014)
» University Michigan (2015)
» OWS report (2013)

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