“Biodegradables” part of the marine litter problem, not the solution / UNEP report
Marketing strategies highlighting biodegradability can negatively influence consumer attitudes toward littering, says UNEP (Photo: UNEP)
Adoption of plastic products labelled biodegradable will not significantly decrease the quantity of plastic entering the ocean or the risk of physical and chemical impact on the marine environment, the latest report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, Nairobi / Kenya;, “Biodegradable Plastics & Marine Litter – Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environments,” argues.

In fact, the report says biodegradable polymers could worsen the problem as they degrade significantly slower in the marine environment than on land. In particular the use of oxo-degradable polymers such as HDPE, which tend to fragment rapidly, is seen as increasing the quantity of microplastics literally in free float.

UNEP points a finger sharply at corporate marketing strategies as contributing to misconceptions about biodegradables and thus to the litter problem. Claims that such products reduce the impact on the marine environment “are likely motivated by commercial interests rather than scientific evidence,” it asserts. Even polymers marketed as biodegradable will decompose only under a limited range of environmental conditions. Plastic carrier bags touted as biodegradable, for instance, “may only degrade appreciably in an industrial composter, where temperatures are expected to reach 70 °C,” and thus not on the ocean floor.

The UN organisation also blames marketing strategies for negatively influencing consumer attitudes to littering, as “labelling a product as biodegradable may be seen as a technical fix that removes responsibility from the individual.” Another disadvantage of using biodegradable polymers, it says, is the need to separate them from other waste for recycling as to avoid compromising the quality of the final product.

To tackle the marine litter problem more effectively, Waste Free Oceans (WFO,, an initiative of European Plastics Converters (EuPC, Brussels / Belgium;, underscores the need to develop educational tools “to ensure that future generations make better use of current resources and thus contribute as individuals to the circular economy.” WFO recently held a “Guardians of the Sea” conference at the European Parliament aimed at informing policy makers, the plastics industry, the fisheries sector, NGOs and others about solutions to the problem (see of 14.09.2015).

UNEP study "Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter – Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environments” (2015) as a PDF document
01.12.2015 944 [232770-0]
Published on 01.12.2015
Marine Littering: Bio-Kunststoffe könnten Probleme verschärfenGerman version of this article...

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