‘Small but significant’ anomaly in PAS 9017 consultation process

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has released an updated response on the development of the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 9017 for ‘Biodegradation of polyolefins in an open-air terrestrial environment’, the steering group of which the charity was represented.

In a previous statement, WRAP stated that it was waiting for some further information with regards to these representations and that its involvement in the steering group should not be taken as an endorsement of PAS 9017 ‘in its current form’.

In the updated response, the charity confirmed that there was a small but significant anomaly in the normal high standards of the British Standards Institute consultation process. The committee will reconvene in January to examine WRAP’s recommendation that the standard tests for microplastics during the breakdown process, not just at the end.

Polyolefins are a category of commodity thermoplastics, of which polyethylene is the most widely used. PE is used in the manufacturing process of a number of consumer goods, including containers, buckets, pipes, toys, covers, lids, plastic bags, stretch wraps, plastic wraps, sheets, films, bottles and extrusion-coated paper cartons.

With PAS 9017 claiming to have methods for demonstrating that a polyolefin plastic will biodegrade in an open-air terrestrial environment within a specific timescale and leave no microplastics, WRAP emphasised the importance of providing evidence for claims like these, restating its opposition to oxodegradable plastics.

While WRAP confirmed that PAS are helpful to industry as they define categories of products, drive quality and support innovation, it also raised a number of concerns relating to PAS 9017.

These included the fact that PAS does not cover soil, freshwater or marine environments – this being an important limitation, as most marine plastic pollution originates from terrestrial litter – and concerns about the terminology used in relation to a product’s ‘biodegradability’.

WRAP advised that the term ‘biodegradable’ should be avoided unless it is clear which environment this applies to and the timescale of the process (with the maximum timescale being two years). It also warned of the term ‘biodegradable’ being misinterpreted by the public as acceptable to litter, and so emphasised the importance of communications of this property.

It also noted that PAS 9017 does not cover the recyclability of biodegradable plastics, and that any such claims also need to be substantiated.