PLASTICS AND ENVIRONMENT
Oxo-biodegradables industry slams EU drive to restrict usage / Conventional polymers seen as the “bigger risk” in microplastics generation
Manufacturers of oxo-biodegradable plastics (OBP) continue to fight the EU’s plans to curb the use of their products as part of an effort to reduce the burden on the environment posed by microplastics – for the latest coverage see Plasteurope.com of 22.11.2017. While the European Commission has not proposed banning the products, the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA, London / UK; www.biodeg.org) is unhappy with its plans to have the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA, Helsinki / Finland; www.echa.europa.eu) prepare a restriction dossier for microplastics intentionally added to products. Brussels’ position, which it has anchored in its “EU Strategy on Plastics” – see Plasteurope.com of 24.01.2018 – is that oxo-degradable plastics are in fact not biodegradable, and it is concerned about their entering recycling streams.

ECHA has scheduled an online information session for 12 March to clarify the scope of its envisaged call for evidence to assess the impacts of a possible restriction – the call will run until 11 May. OPA has called the idea of restricting oxo-biodegradables “fundamentally misconceived.” Rather than from its own products, it says the risk derives from conventional plastics. These, it says, “are the source of most of the microplastics researchers are finding in the oceans.” The association challenges in particular the Commission’s recent finding that “oxo-biodegradables, fragmenting over time, turn into microplastics that have similar properties to the microplastics originating from the fragmentation of conventional plastics.”

This finding “is a serious error, as the properties of oxo-biodegradable and conventional plastics are significantly different,” OPA contends. It points to a process described by Ignacy Jakubowicz, “one of the world’s leading polymer scientists,” in his criticism of the report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF, Cowes / UK; www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org). In the producers’ view, EMF “made the same mistake” in evaluating its products. The industry previously called the EMF report “counter-productive and confusing,” adding that the foundation is “seeking to deprive the environment of the benefits of technology.”

Explaining Jakubowicz’s assessment of oxo-biodegradation, the industry lobby insists that the process “is not only a fragmentation, but is an entire change of the material from a high molecular weight polymer, to […] oxygen-containing molecules, which can be bioassimilated.” This point “is absolutely crucial to an understanding of oxo-biodegradable plastic technology,” it says. While the members of the Commission’s Environment arm, “do not accept that this is true, they cannot identify any scientist who says that Jakubowicz is wrong.”

“Oxo-biodegradable plastic does not contain any of the hazardous substances listed in Article 11 of the Packaging Waste Directive nor in EN13432” (the European standard for plastics intended for composting), the association says, while noting that “oxo-biodegradable plastics are tested according to the same eco-toxicity tests prescribed by EN13432 for plastics intended for composting.”

In view of the “serious misunderstandings” it perceives, OPA wants the Commission to reconsider its position and withdraw the planned ECHA assessment. “If they do not,” OPA says, “we will submit the necessary evidence to ECHA, and if necessary to the courts, but it could take four years, and during that time we will be free to supply oxo-biodegradable plastic in the EU.” The real problem, OPA suggests, is that the EU Commission and member states up to now have failed to address this matter effectively, “to the great detriment of future generations.” If action had been taken years ago to adopt oxo-biodegradable plastic technology, “there would be no ocean garbage patches of plastic today.”
06.03.2018 Plasteurope.com [239198-0]
Published on 06.03.2018

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