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Biodegradation standard for plastics additives in the making; oxo additives need not apply

The Plastics Environmental Council (PEC) has announced the sponsorship of a research study to produce the first standard specification for the landfill biodegradation of petroleum- and natural gas-derived plastics that have been treated with additives that enhance biodegradation. The PEC is not, however, looking at oxobiodegradable additives stressed Charles Lancelot, PEC executive director.

"Our member companies' additives are not at all related to the so-called 'oxo' additives," Lancelot told PlasticsToday. Lancelot noted that such additives, specifically identified as oxobiodegradables, can rely on catalysts, which are quite often transition metal catalysts like cobalt, that promote the breakdown of the plastics by air oxidation into smaller molecules. "Our member companies' additives contain no metals, and are simple organic compounds that initiate and promote solely a biodegradation process, and do so only in the presence of the types of microorganisms typically encountered in landfills."

The PEC is undertaking the development of the biodegradation standard specification to build confidence in the efficacy of plastics additives with regulators, consumers and businesses. Plastic additives that speed up the breakdown of plastic in landfills, without affecting their performance during use, are critically important to helping reduce the volume of plastic waste in landfills, says the PEC.

To develop the standard specification, PEC has partnered with Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University to conduct a large-scale research and development program, headed by a leading expert on landfill technology, Professor Morton Barlaz of North Carolina State. Professor Barlaz and his team will study waste degradation rates under both laboratory and field (landfill) conditions of petroleum- and natural gas-derived plastics that have been treated with PEC member companies' additives to produce the standard specification. Once developed, the standard specification will reliably project the landfill biodegradation rates for a given PEC-certified product in a given range of landfills over a given range of moisture conditions with much more certainty than is possible today. The PEC expects the landfill biodegradability certification seal to be available in approximately 18 months.

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