The UNEP report on ‘bioplastics and marine litter’ recognises that plastics, which biodegrade on land under favourable conditions, also biodegrade in the marine environment. The report also states, however, that this process is not calculable enough at this point in time, and biodegradable plastics are currently not a solution to marine litter. European Bioplastics (EUBP) agrees with the report’s call for further research and the development of clear standards for biodegradation in the marine environment. The UNEP report is a good basis to discuss this topic further with all relevant institutions.
Research and design in the field of marine biodegradability of plastic is well underway, and several projects, such as the EU-funded Open-Bio project, are conducting intensive tests and research in this regard.
However, improving waste management on land is an absolute priority in solving the problem of marine litter. Further research and, eventually, the design of products that biodegrade in marine environment can only help to reduce litter in the future where efficient waste management is not sufficient enough. But for that to work, ambitious standards and strict guidelines for environmental claims are needed to make better use of the property biodegradability for plastics in this special context.
It is important to stress that littering needs to be avoided and reduced by all means. On the contrary, the behavioural problem of littering must be addressed by means of better education and information. Biodegradation must never be promoted as an excuse to continue to litter.
The UNEP report also analyses the environmental impact of oxo-framentable plastics, which European Bioplastics has raised great concerns against in the past. The report correctly warns that these materials pose a threat to the marine environment as their fragments remain in the ocean and can be ingested by marine organisms and facilitate the transport of harmful microbes.
For more information, please see our position paper on marine litter as well as our background paper on ‘oxo-degradable plastics and other additive mediated plastics’.