The European Commission has recommended EU-wide measures be taken against so-called ‘oxo-degradable‘ plastics. In a report published earlier this month, the Commission said that “a process to restrict the use of oxo-plastics in the EU will be started”. European Bioplastics (EUBP), the association of the bioplastics industry in Europe, strongly welcomes this clear commitment to take action. “EUBP has long been warning about the harmful effects of oxo-degradable plastics on the environment as well as the potential damage to the reputation and understanding of truly biodegradable plastics. Several cases of greenwashing and false claims have been reported over the past years that have lead to confusion about biodegradation in the general public,” says Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of EUBP.

The Commission makes a necessary and clear distinction between biodegradable plastics and oxo-degradable plastics, the latter of which cannot be considered bioplastics. They are conventional plastic materials with artificial additives that do not biodegrade but merely fragment into small pieces that remain in and potentially harm the environment and endanger recycling and composting.

 Fragmentation and the risk of microplastics

The report states that oxo-degradable plastics fragment over time into smaller plastic particles, and finally microplastics. Furthermore, it states that there is no evidence that these “plastic fragments will undergo full biodegradation within a reasonable timeframe”. Other major concerns are raised with regard to the recyclability of oxo-degradable plastics as they cannot be identified and sorted separately with current technologies and therefore can negatively affect the quality of recyclate and recycled plastic products.

Important signal to other countries

While some EU Member States have already set an example and restricted the use of oxo-degradable plastics, including France and Spain, several countries in the Middle-East and Africa are still promoting the use of oxo-degradable plastics or even made their use mandatory. Oxo-degradable plastics are falsely marketed as a solution to the plastic waste and littering problem in countries where no effective waste management infrastructure is in place. The negative effects on the environment, however, must not be neglected. This is why the decision by the European Commission to take concrete action comes as an urgent and important signal to limit the harmful impacts of oxo-degradable plastics on our planet.

Biodegradability is an inherent property of a material or product resulting from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, and algae. The process produces water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. No additives are needed and no fragments remain in the environment.

Composting is enhanced biodegradation under managed conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and microorganisms present. In the case of industrial composting, the requirements are clearly defined in internationally agreed standards such as EN13432, or ISO 18606. For biodegradation in other environments other standards can and should regulate the framework conditions and pass/fail criteria.