Three manufacturers of oxo-degradable plastics take exception to projected OWS study

September 22, 2014

Two British and a Swedish manufacturer of so-called oxo-degradable plastics—Symphony Environmental, Wells Plastics and Add-X—have issued a joint statement in which they explain exactly why, in their opinion, no extra study is needed to verify whether their materials biodegrade, or whether they do not. The statement is a response to last week's announcement by Organic Waste Systems (OWS), based in Gent, Belgium, and IKT-University Stuttgart that they are setting up a multi-client project designed to establish once and for all, whether or not oxo-degradable plastics are indeed biodegradable. Or not.

It's a statement that by its very vehemence raises incredulity. Shakespeare put it rather nicely, in my opinion, when he wrote: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

According to their statement, these companies find it surprising that some people are still proposing yet more studies to prove oxo-biodegradability. After all "oxo-biodegradable plastics are polymers designed to convert automatically into biodegradable materials at the end of their useful life," they write.

Why, they ask why would the European Standards authority (CEN) have defined it as "degradation resulting from oxidative and cell-mediated phenomena, either simultaneously or successively" if oxo-biodegradability does not exist?

"If oxo-biodegradable plastics merely fragmented, why would the American British and French Standards organizations include tests to prove biodegradation in ASTM D6954, BS 8472, and AC T51-808?"

The statement goes on: "Anyone who says 'there is no evidence' cannot have read the extensive peer-reviewed scientific bibliography on the subject, written over the past 15 years by polymer scientists in the UK, US, France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Canada, Australia and Brazil.......Anyone who refers to EN13432 as the Standard by which biodegradability of plastics should be judged has not read clause 1 of that Standard which makes it clear that it applies to biodegradation in the special conditions found in industrial composting or anaerobic digestion - and further that it "does not take into account packaging waste which may end up in the environment through uncontrolled means, i.e. as litter."  It was to address this very problem that oxo-biodegradable plastics were developed."

At this point, it may be worthwhile to point out that engineering valuable petroleum-based materials to degrade or disintegrate in the environment, somehow does not seem a constructive approach to this problem, but rather a huge waste of opportunity and resources.

Changing tack, the three manufacturers then proceed to attempt to discredit the use of biobased polymers, stating that "the companies marketing bio-based 'compostable' plastics have spent millions on PR campaigns against it and have even promoted European legislation to try to give their own product an unfair advantage in the marketplace as compared with oxo-biodegradable plastics."

Their statement closes, among other things, by accusing OWS of inherent bias, describing OWS as "experts in bio-based "compostable" plastics" who "derive most of their income from the companies who supply and use that technology."

"They are not experts in oxo-biodegradable technology," they write. True. Which is exactly why the planned study is to be a multi-client project, or as OWS itself declared: "To make this study as objective and neutral as possible, we are aiming at a broad participation including government agencies, consumer goods producers, NGO's, oxo-degradable producers and the bioplastics industry."

So Symphony Environmental, Wells Plastics and Add-X, one wonders: what is the problem? Producers of oxo-degradable plastics are explicitly mentioned as potential participants in the study. Your statement makes it eminently clear that you have no doubts about the validity of your claims. According to you, studies abound that demonstrate the truth about oxo-biodegradability. Why not back these up with just one more study - one in which everyone participates, not just the "oxo-biodegradable experts." After all, as you stated (but then with reference to OWS), "it would also be difficult to accept them as independent."


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