14 November 2018

UK judge finds the case for oxo-degradable plastic ‘compelling’

A commentary by bioplastics MAGAZINE

In a further twist of the oxy-degradable plastics saga, Symphony Environmental Technologies PLC today (5th November 2018) heard the news that a lawyer and former deputy Judge of the High Court in England, Peter Susman QC, has declared the scientific case for oxo-biodegradable technologies to be “clear and compelling”.

Oxo-degradable technology, or oxy-fragmentable as its detractors call it, was developed to deal with plastic which escapes into the open environment, and especially the oceans, from which it cannot realistically be collected, and therefore tends to persist for decades, as a serious problem for future generations.

The controversy centres on the argument that these plastics, according to their manufacturer, Symphony Environmental Technologies are able to biodegrade once they are in the environment, marine or otherwise. This is a claim that has been and continues to be disputed by scientists in various research labs who have not been able to demonstrate actual biodegradation.

In a bid to “bring clarity to the debate on biodegradable plastics,” Symphony commissioned Peter Susman QC, to conduct an independent review of the scientific evidence relating to oxo-degradable technology. Now, whatever else he may be, Mr. Susman is not a polymer scientist. However, he examined the processes of abiotic and biotic degradation of plastics, and then looked specifically at degradation in air and degradation in seawater.

He concluded, in a 14-page written Opinion, among other things, that oxo-degradable technology ‘does facilitate the ultimate biodegradation of plastics in air or seawater by bacteria, fungi or algae, within a reasonable time, so as to cause the plastic to cease to exist as such, far sooner than ordinary plastics, without causing any toxicity’ and that “the benefit is obvious of reducing future contributions to the scourge of plastic pollution of land and sea.”

Commenting on his report, Peter Susman QC said: “I have been asked imagine that I have been appointed as the sole member of an independent tribunal with jurisdiction to review, on a balance of probabilities, and in the light of the available scientific evidence, the effectiveness and utility of Oxo-biodegradable plastic technology in facilitating the speedier final degradation of certain plastics.

“It is no longer tenable to conclude that there is ‘no firm evidence either way’ whether oxo-biodegradable plastic technology is effective. I consider that recent research provides clear and compelling evidence that oxo-biodegradable plastic is indeed effective in facilitating very significantly speedier degradation than is the case when that technology is not used.”
Michael Laurier, Chief Executive of Symphony Environmental said he was delighted that Peter Susman QC has found the scientific case for Symphony’s d2w oxodegradable technology to be proven.

Interestingly, just this summer, in a BBC broadcast featuring both Michael Laurier and Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth who has long studied the claims to degradability made by Symphony about its plastics, the latter produced a bag made from oxo-biodegradable that had been held underwater for two years and which had retained its structural integrity, clearly failing to degrade.

Michael Laurier retaliated by questioning Professor Thompson’s competence in this area, stating “he is not a polymer scientist”.

We, at bioplastics Magazine, humbly submit that Peter Susman QC, sound as he may be on aspects of the law, is neither fit nor capable of finding a scientific case ‘proven’.

Given Professor Thompson’s solid academic credentials and demonstrated expertise and experience in the field of marine biology, we certainly know whose ‘Opinion’ we should be believing.

Source: Bioplastics MAGAZINE, 2018-11-05.

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