Rise in plastics bans forcing firms to consider sustainable alternatives
A growing number of countries are banning unsustainable plastics, meaning UK plastics firms will need to adopt oxo-biodegradable technology quickly if they want to retain their export markets.
The warning came from a leading plastics technology specialist Michael Stephen, deputy chairman of Symphony Environmental Technologies, at an international conference in Zagreb this week.
Speaking at FESTA-CROPAK, the annual packaging conference for the Balkan region, Stephen said several countries now compel all consumer plastics to be oxo-biodegradable by law, with fines and penalties for those who break the regulations, and confiscation of their products.
These include Pakistan, UAE, Iran, Yemen, Morocco, Mali, DR Congo, Togo, parts of Brazil and Argentina and Balkan countries such as Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania.
"These are all rapidly developing countries with a big plastic waste problem," Stephen told delegates. "They are attracted by a plastic which offers complete biodegradation on land or water to a pre-determined lifespan, but which can also be recycled."
Oxo-biodegradable plastic converts at the end of its useful life into a biodegradable material, which is then bioassimilated in the same way as a leaf.
Stephen said that another factor plastics companies needed to bear in mind was the trend for plastics manufacturing to be controlled by a growing variety of regulations and standards.
"It is becoming essential for companies to keep abreast of them and to put more research into environmental technologies," he said.
Stephen revealed that his company were working with various academics and research labs to carry out the necessary research to ensure compliance with standards.
Genuine oxo-biodegradable plastics are compliant with ASTM D6954-04, the standard for plastics that degrade in the environment by a combination of oxidation and biodegradation. Oxo-bio also complies with British Standard 8472, UAE 2009:5009, the EU's Packaging Waste Directive.
According to Stephen, the cost benefits of oxo-bio plastic were beginning to stack up against compostable and bio-plastics.
"Compostable plastics cost up to 400% more than normal plastic, whereas oxo-bio plastic costs less than 5%," he argued, adding that oxo-bio does not generate methane, even in landfill.
In 2011 the Environment Agency published a comparison of different types of shopping bag. It concluded that oxo-biodegradable bags have a better lifecycle analysis than compostable plastic bags or paper bags.