'Degradable' plastic not so environmentally fantastic, study reveals

Plastic bags marked as degradable may not be as environmentally-friendly as consumers think, according to new research.

Oxo-degradable plastics, which include additives to speed break down, may not break down fast enough and could have a negative effect on the environment a government funded study by Loughborough University says.

The report says: "The overall conclusion of this review is that incorporation of additives into petroleum-based plastics that cause those plastics to undergo accelerated degradation does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects."

It describes the term 'biodegradable' as 'virtually meaningless' as the rates of degradation in materials are so different.

It suggests either more detail about the type of biodegradability is put on labels or the word is dropped and replaced with disposal instructions.
The report says incineration is the best option for oxo-degradable plastics with landfill the next best option.

Environment minister, Dan Norris, said: "As these plastics cannot be composted, the term 'biodegradable' can cause confusion.

"Incorrect disposal of oxo-degradable plastics has the potential to negatively affect both recycling and composting facilities.
"We hope this research will discourage manufacturers and retailers from claiming that these materials are better for the environment than conventional plastics."

Supermarket chain the Co-operative has pledged to stop using the plastic.

Co-op environment manager, Iain Ferguson, said: "We have already decided to stop purchasing carrier bags with the oxo-biodegradable additive and with the support of our customers and staff we have reduced carrier bag numbers by 60 per cent in the last three years."

Products made from compostable plastic are tested and able to bio-degrade within six months.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says updated guidance for businesses on making accurate claims about how green their products will be out for consultation this year.

The report, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Oxo-degradable Plastics Across their Life Cycle, was published last Thursday (March 11).

To read it it in full click on this link

David Gibbs


packaging | plastic bags


Waste & resource management
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