The controversy was ignited yesterday after industry association European Bioplastics (EB) publicly denounced claims made by the oxo-biodegradeable (OB) industry as “misleading” and “free of substance”.
The Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OBPA) hit back by saying its products were superior and EB had gone on the attack in a bid to protect its market share.
EB issued a position paper distancing itself from the OB sector, saying there were “serious concerns amongst many plastics, composting and waste management experts that these products do not meet their claimed environmental promises”.
The oxo-biodegradation industry says its plastics “self-destruct” or biodegrade when they are exposed to UV irradiation or heat because substances such as cobalt, nickel and zinc are added to conventional plastics at the time of manufacture. These reduce the molecular weight of the material over a pre-determined period and they fragment – allowing them to be consumed by bacteria and fungi.
But EB challenged these claims because it says at present they cannot be verified with reference to international standards. The organisation said OB products did not biodegrade but only fragment into invisible pieces, saying “this is not generally considered as a feasible manner of solving the problem of plastic waste”.
"Bioplastics are still a relatively young industry", said Andy Sweetman, Chairman of the Board of European Bioplastics. "Inherent implications made on the environmental suitability of our products are subject to close scrutiny by all kinds of stakeholders. It is, therefore, vital that claims on biodegradability or compostability are backed by internationally accepted standards.”
He added that it was vital that the public not be confused by claims on biodegradability and compostability resulting from differing methods.
"If certain products that claim to be biodegradable or compostable are proven not to fulfill acknowledged standards, this is liable to impact negatively on our own members’ products, even though they do fully comply", Sweetman said.
He added it was vital its own compostability mark, known as the seedling, not be associated with any oxo-biodegradable product as they did not comply with recognized European standards. This is why EB had successfully fought against attempts by the OB industry to “water down” EN 13432, said Sweetman.
EB also raised concerns that a public misperception of OB products could encourage more littering and interfere with organic and recycling schemes.
But the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OBPA) dismissed EB arguments saying its products were tested for degradability, biodegradability and non-eco toxicity against criteria laid down in American Standard ASTM D6954-04. Authorities in France had published a standard for OB products, while the UK was in the process of developing one, it added.
The OB body also rejected charges of trying to dilute European standards.
“EP fought to prevent the amendment of EN13432 because they have a commercial interest against a European Standard with tests appropriate to oxo-bio,” an OBPA spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com.
It added that composting was not the same as biodegradation in the environment as it was an artificial process operated according to a much shorter timescale than the processes of nature.
“Therefore, Standards such as EN13432, ISO 17088, and their American (ASTM D6400) and Australian (AS 4736-2006) equivalents, designed for compostable plastic, cannot be used for plastic which is designed to biodegrade if it gets into the environment,” added the spokesman. “The hydrobiodegradable industry has consistently lobbied for standards and legislation which give its product an artificial advantage, and has consistently blocked proposals for change.”
Regarding concerns that its products could lead to more litter, it said there was no evidence to suggest this would happen.
OBPA concluded: “Composting of organic waste makes sense, but compostable plastic does not. It is up to 400% more expensive than ordinary plastic; it is thicker and heavier and requires more trucks to transport it. If buried in landfill, compostable plastic will emit methane.”