Recyclers warn against oxo-degradable additives

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The European Plastics Recyclers Association (EuPR) is urging manufacturers to exercise caution if using oxo-degradable additives, warning they have the potential to do more harm to the environment than good.

EuPR says it has seen no proof that oxo-degradable additives help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, public misconception about the recyclability of these materials means that oxo-degradable additives will end up in general waste.

“The public attention will be diverted from recycling by thinking ‘it will degrade by itself’,” says the trade body. “This thinking will damage the recycling rates achieved after decades of efforts from industry, authorities and the population.”

EuPR compares plastics to an ‘energy bank’ and points out that energy invested in the plastic during polymerisation can be reused through recycling. However, the presence of oxo-degradable additives in the plastic puts this at risk, claims the group.

“It is an economic and environmental nonsense to destroy this value,” says the group. “Moreover, it is the most unsustainable – together with landfill – way to use the valuable oil transformed in plastic.”

Plastics manufacturers should therefore “be watchful” when considering the use of oxo degradable additives, says EuPR.

EuPR is not the only trade body to express concern over oxo-degradable additives, as the US National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCR) last month said there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that these additives have any beneficial effect on the environment.

“We urge manufacturers of PET resin and packaging to refrain from introductions of degradable additive-containing products until data is made available for review and verification so we can better understand these products and their potential ramifications,” said the association.

Nevertheless, several plastics manufacturers are forging ahead with plans to introduce degradable additives into their products.

In the US, several companies are marketing degradable PET for bottle applications; Planet Green Bottle is using an oxo-degradable technology while Enso is marketing a system that it claims is triggered by microbial action.

Last month, Mexican food producer Bimbo Group said it will roll-out a newly developed alumimium-coated multi-layer PE film based on the d2w oxo-degradable additive technology marketed by UK-based Symphony Environmental Technologies. The new film will be implemented across all metallised film applications by the first quarter of 2011, says the Mexican company.

Symphony Environmental defends the use of degradable additives. Commercial director Michael Stephen told European Plastics News its technology has not been developed for plastics that can be picked up and recycled but for those that cannot.

“What we are offering is a low cost insurance against the plastic getting into the environment,” he says.

The company also released a statement replying to EuPR, saying the European organisation has a “misunderstanding” of the technology.

Symphony says oxo-biodegradable plastic will self-destruct in a much shorter time than non-degradable plastic in the open environment, without leaving behind methane or fragments of petro-polymers.

It says that EuPR should instead be concerned with hydro-biodegradable plastics, compostable plastics and crop-based bioplastics, all of which it says compromise a normal oil-based recycling process.

US firm Planet Green claims to be “overwhelmed” by the interest in its Revert technology, which is developed by UK-based masterbatch producer Wells Plastics.

Company founder and director of corporate development Patrick Rooney says Planet Green is dealing with the 76% of plastic bottles that are not recycled.

“Our oxo-biodegradable bottles are now being tested or evaluated by brand owners globally; they revert back to nature in 10 to 20 years,” he says.

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