30 Juli 2012

European Bioplastics comments on the study “A Life Cycle Assessment of Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags”

Position paper critizising Intertek-study about working with incorrect and incomplete assumptions

In May 2012, the Intertek-study “A Life Cycle Assessment of Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable and Conventional Bags” – commissioned by pro-oxidant additives producer Symphony Environmental Ltd. – was published. The study attempts to create a comparison of oxo-fragmentable and biobased compostable plastic bags by compiling an LCA.

The study has not been critically reviewed by a panel of experts and, consequently, is not in line with ISO 14040 and 14044 standards. Furthermore, the study works with incorrect and incomplete assumptions about biobased compostable carrier bags. These are discussed in detail below while numerous, fall into 3 major areas:

1. The study is unbalanced. The LCA quotes a series of studies that are favourable to the “oxo-biodegradable” materials (for instance, claims that “oxo-biodegradable” bags present no problem in compost or recycling streams). The authors seem to be unaware of the many other studies that show completely different evidence.

2. “Oxo-biodegradable” as a purported solution to littering. The study suggests that “oxo-biodegradable” bags represent a solution for littering. A brand-new impact category has even been invented: “littering”. However, no standard test method is described and, therefore, any conclusion is arbitrary and based on unverified assumptions.

3. The study is full of incorrect or partial assumptions (e.g. behaviour in landfill, manufacturing site in China, reuse as a liner of bio-bins, PE sourced in Asia but considered as if it were European, wrong carbon content values, etc.)

“In principle, an LCA shines a spotlight on a single product and identifies the areas where it could/should be improved. There is no question that an LCA is an important tool to establish improvements in environmental performance of a product. Unfortunately however, LCAs are increasingly used as a comparative marketing tool using e.g. selected parameters and impact categories favourable to one’s product, which cannot and should not be the intent of an LCA”, elaborates Professor Ramani Narayan of Michigan State University.

Due to the methodological and data-wise incomplete and confusing set up of the study and, therefore, the limited validity of the results, European Bioplastics Chairman Andy Sweetman urges: “The plastics industry and interested stakeholders should contemplate the results of this study with great care”.

For details, kindly see the position paper which is available for download: EuBP Position Paper July 2012

Source: Australasian Bioplastics, press release, 2012-07-30.

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