Scientific knowledge appears to be lacking in the European Parliament when it comes to understanding the terms oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable and determining rules for single-use plastics. That was the observation of Dr. Gary Ogden, Chairman of the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Federation (OBPF) and Technical Manager at Wells Plastics Ltd. (Stone, UK), which will be exhibiting at K 2019, (stand A 26, hall 5).
“We have had discussions with a local Member of the European Parliament (MEP), where we demonstrated that information provided by the European Commission (EC) to their own parliamentary representatives was wrong,” Ogden told PlasticsToday. “The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) study was formally closed at the end of April this year, but our representative was quite surprised that the EC was not up to date about the status of the process. There is nothing we can do about the single-use directive at this point, but we can influence the implementation of it.”
On March 27, 2019, the European Parliament approved a law to ban single-use plastics by 2021, based on the products found most often on European beaches. The law specifically bans plastic cutlery, plates and straws; cotton bud sticks made of plastic, oxo-degradable plastics and food containers; EPS (expanded polystyrene) cups; and plastic balloon sticks.
The EU’s Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive states “oxo-degradable,” but the definition of oxo-degradable as opposed to oxo-biodegradable was not made clear with regard to the OBPF’s stand. “Our materials have been fully tested and are fully oxo-biodegradable and in compliance with the accepted standard, ASTM D6954-18,” Ogden stated. “What we really have a problem with is that the Single-Use Plastics Directive says ‘oxo-degradable’ and by default it means ‘oxo-biodegradable’ but they won’t say it. They say oxo-degradable plastics will be banned because they do not biodegrade and produce microplastics.”
These two issues were the subject of studies funded by the European Commission itself. The Eunomia study, which took two and one-half years, was conducted to determine whether oxo-degradable, and by default oxo-biodegradable, plastics do biodegrade. “They looked at every aspect and concluded that the issue over whether oxo-biodegradable plastic biodegrades should be put to one side because they do biodegrade,” Ogden emphasized. The ECHA study addressed whether oxo-biodegradable plastics should be banned or restricted due to their harm to the environment via microplastics.
“The European Chemical Agency communicated to us last October that they concluded they wanted an extension to that study as they ‘are not yet convinced that microplastics are formed but we need to be able to fully justify this, especially given the intense political scrutiny of this issue.’ It’s a political farce at best,” said Ogden.
In March of this year, the OBPF wrote a response to the EU, taking issue with the directive’s SUP restrictions, saying that it “should also cover products made from oxo-degradable plastic, as this type of plastic does not properly biodegrade and thus contributes to microplastic pollution in the environment. . . .”
The OBPF noted in its complaint that the EU Parliament had by-passed its own procedures to include oxo-degradables in the legislation, a "reaction that demonstrated both a lack of concern over procedural breaches and an obvious complete lack of knowledge of how oxo-biodegradable plastics actually work,” said Ogden.
In a letter of complaint to the European Parliament prior to the parliamentary session of March 27 2019, the OBPF stated that the European Commission and all MEPs of the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament “had been provided with clear scientific evidence that oxo-biodegradables do not form microplastics and do biodegrade.” It can only be concluded that the European Parliament took the decision purely on the basis of political reasoning.
“Consequently, the European Parliament, by being in breach of its own procedures and ignoring its own independent scientific advice, is responsible for passing legislation which will have a negligible (if indeed any) effect on the global plastic pollution problem—the main self-congratulatory reason promoted in the parliamentary session of [March 27].
“The legislation passed only concerns oxo-degradable plastics, which are differentiated from oxo-biodegradable plastics as defined by European and ASTM standards. The OBPF is concerned that this legislation could cause unnecessary confusion in the marketplace, such that the OBPF felt compelled to explain the current situation.
“It is noticeable that where the many countries on a global basis have gathered proper scientific evidence, which has then been duly considered, [it] has resulted in [legislation favoring] oxo-biodegradable plastics. The OBPF welcomes these countries and will continue to work with them to develop and promote effective standards for the application of oxo-biodegradable plastics.”
Ogden told PlasticsToday that “it’s absolutely disgraceful the way [parliamentarians] behaved—what we said is right but they can’t bring themselves to use the word ‘oxo-biodegradable’ without choking on it. We produce oxo-biodegradable plastic, not oxo-degradable.”