Worldwide organisations call for ban on oxo-degradable plastics

More than 150 organisations have called for oxo-degradable packaging to be banned, following research suggesting that it does not safely biodegrade in nature.

Under the auspices of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, the organisations from every stage of the plastics supply chain, including Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo, Unilever, Veolia, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Bio-Based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) and ten Members of the European Parliament, published an official statement yesterday (6 November) calling for an end to the use of oxo-degradable plastic packaging.

Oxo-degradable plastic packaging has been mooted as a solution to plastic pollution, with claims that this particular form of plastic degrades into harmless residues over a period of a few months to a few years. However, significant evidence cited in the EMF’s statement suggests that oxo-degradable plastics (not to be confused with internationally compliant compostable plastics) do not actually degrade, but fragment into tiny pieces of plastic, contributing to plastic pollution.

In its statement, the EMF expressed that it ‘support[s] applying the precautionary principle by banning oxo-degradable plastic packaging from the market’, given that ‘the evidence to date suggests that oxo-degradable plastic packaging goes against two core principles of the circular economy: designing out waste and pollution; and keeping products and materials in high-value use.’

The EMF and its co-signatories state that they will stick to this position until ‘extensive, independent third-party research and testing based on international standards’ has been carried out.

The move follows earlier action to restrict the use of oxo-degradable plastics on the part of governments and businesses, with UK retailers Tesco and the Co-operative stopping using oxo-degradable plastics in their single-use carrier bags, while France introduced a blanket ban on the use of oxo-degradable plastics back in 2015. However, oxo-degradables are still produced in many European countries and are marketed as safely biodegradable.

Commenting on yesterday’s statement, Rob​ ​Opsomer,​ ​Lead​ ​for​ ​Systemic Initiatives​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Ellen​ ​MacArthur​ ​Foundation, stated: “The​ ​available​ ​evidence​ ​overwhelmingly​ ​suggests​ ​oxo-degradable​ ​plastics​ ​do​ ​not​ ​achieve what​ ​their​ ​producers​ ​claim​ ​and​ ​instead​ ​contribute​ ​to​ ​microplastic​ ​pollution.​ ​In​ ​addition,​ ​these materials​ ​are​ ​not​ ​suited​ ​for​ ​effective​ ​long-term​ ​reuse,​ ​recycling​ ​at​ ​scale​ ​or​ ​composting, meaning​ ​they​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​part​ ​of​ ​a​ ​circular​ ​economy.”​​

Erin Simon,​ ​Director​ ​of​ ​Sustainability​ ​Research​ ​and​ ​Development at the ​World​ ​Wildlife​ ​Fund, added: “Using​ ​oxo-degradable​ ​additives​ ​is​ ​not​ ​a​ ​solution​ ​for​ ​litter.​ ​Their​ ​use​ ​in​ ​waste​ ​management systems​ ​will​ ​likely​ ​cause​ ​negative​ ​outcomes​ ​for​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​and​ ​communities. When public​ ​policy​ ​supports​ ​the​ ​cascading​ ​use​ ​of​ ​materials​ ​–​ ​systems​ ​where​ ​materials​ ​get​ ​reused over​ ​and​ ​over,​ ​this​ ​strengthens​ ​economies​ ​and​ ​drives​ ​the​ ​development​ ​of​ ​smarter​ ​materials management​ ​systems.​ ​This​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​wins​ ​for​ ​both​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​and​ ​society.”

The announcement has also been welcomed by plastics industry figures, with Roger Baynham, Chairman of the British Plastics Federation's Recycling Group, stating: "The BPF Recycling Group has, for some years, raised serious concerns about the impact of oxo-degradable products on the environment and the recycling sector is delighted that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has fully endorses this view." 

Launched in 2016, the EMF’s New Plastics Economy initiative aims to instigate a major rethink on society’s use of plastics, supporting innovation that designs out waste and pollution, even offering a $2-million prize for innovative plastic packaging creations, in order to keep materials in the value chain for as long as possible, in line with the principles of the circular economy.