19 August 2016

New report on oxo-biodegradable recyclate fans flames of old controversy

TCKT concluded that there would be no negative effects including oxo-biodegradable recyclate into plastic products

The Transfercenter fur Kunststofftechnik (TCKT) in Austria, has published a new report which concluded that there would be no negative effects from the inclusion of oxo-biodegradable recyclate into plastic products intended for long term use outdoors, such as garden furniture, plastic lumber, signage posts and the like.

The report, which came out on July 27, 2016, was quickly embraced by d2w oxo-biodegradable plastics manufacturer Symphony, based in Borehamwood, England. However, it also generated an immediate response from the British Plastics Federation. This organization pointed out that the structure of the U.K. and European plastics recycling industry makes it well-nigh impossible to ensure that the recyclate is only going to be used in such products. BPF expressed particular concern about the consequences if the recyclate were to get into, for example, films with long-term uses such as damp proof membranes. Among other things, BPF emphasized that the quality of recyclate was of paramount importance for recyclers, as any perception that these materials could find their way into the recycling stream could undermine the reputation and the integrity of the sector.

This newest TCTK report found that in the recycled film formulations investigated “The presence of oxo-biodegradable recyclate seems to influence the materials a little, because the number of cracks is higher than for the LDPE without oxo- biodegradable recyclate.”
However, echoing the findings of an earlier report published on March 17, 2016, TCTK concluded that: “the UV-stabiliser was found to prevent this effect, whether oxo-biodegradable recyclate is present or not, because the UV stabiliser inhibits the propagation of free-radicals which are responsible for polymer degradation.”

TCKT also stressed that “a further consideration is the thickness of the material, which limits the oxygen penetration into the plastic, and therefore reduces the effect of the pro-degradant on the bulk material. Therefore, the thicker the material, the less susceptible it will be to oxo-degradation. Another factor limiting the availability of oxygen, and therefore reducing the degradation rate substantially, would be the case of films which are used as a lining under concrete or other building materials. Such films will generally degrade slowly, at a similar rate to non-degradable plastics, due to the very limited oxygen availability and the exclusion of UV radiation.”

Symphony also took issue with BPF’s comment that oxo-biodegradables constitute a ‘flawed’ solution to the litter problem, lacks merit as “they are not intended as a solution”. This, despite the fact that Symphony’s own website specifically states that “oxo-biodegradable plastic offers a solution to plastic waste that escapes into the open environment and cannot realistically be collected”. One may well ask what the definition of litter, if not that.

Yet the company unerringly arrived at the heart of the problem with its following conclusion: “It is obvious to most people that plastic which degrades in a few months after being discarded is better for the environment than plastic which lies or floats around for decades before degrading.”

Very true, and to most people, that much IS indeed obvious. However, what is much less obvious is whether oxo-biodegradable plastics actually fit the bill. The jury is still out on whether these plastics actually biodegrade, or merely fragment into tiny particles that invisibly poison the environment they enter. Despite the assertions of manufacturers of these products to the contrary, conclusive scientific evidence is still lacking on this crucial issue.

Interestingly, Symphony itself writes on its website: “There are mischievous individuals or companies who are spreading misinformation because they wish to give their own product an advantage in the marketplace that it does not deserve on merit”.

O, Symphony: Know Thyself!

Source: Bioplastics MAGAZINE, 2016-08-11.

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