British firm tries and fails to get EU to undo oxo-degradable plastics ban

The legal challenge was filed in late 2021 and shot down in court this week,

Symphony Environmental filed a lawsuit at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CURIA), alleging that the ban is not compatible with existing business competition law and that, in designing the ban, legislators were misled over the lifecycle impacts of oxo-degradable plastics.

Oxo-degradable plastics are plastics designed to break down in open environments, landfills, industrial composting facilities, and water. Proponents claim that they do not result in microplastic pollution or toxicity, whereas the EU’s lawmakers heard prior to the ban that they only break down to a certain extent, leeching plastics into the environment.

Oxo-degradables are different to compostables. They are made from traditional plastics with pro-oxidant additives incorporated during manufacturing. Symphony Environmental’s product portfolio includes such additives.

CURIA’s General Court ultimately dismissed Symphony Environmental’s case. It ruled that the EU is within its rights to ban certain products in the interest of protecting the environment and/or human health.

Lawmakers “did not make a manifest error” with the ban, CURIA ruled, noting that it acted on a wealth of scientific research available at the time casting doubt on the environmental impact of oxo-degradables over their lifecycle.

Symphony Environmental said in a statement that “EU officials and politicians can ignore the rules and get away with it”.

It accused the EU of paying for expert evidence gamed towards outcomes that would support a ban and urged fresh environmental impact assessments to be conducted.

Prior to the EU-wide ban, oxo-degradables had already been removed from France, Spain, Switzerland and some other EU member states.

Wales looks set to implement a ban by 2026 and the UK’s other nations may well follow suit.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has advocated for a global ban. It has the support of more than 150 other organisations in this endeavor, including retail and FMCG giants, trade bodies, universities and other NGOs.

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