So-called ‘oxo-degradable’ plastic bags used by major UK supermarkets do not break down as quickly as believed and may not be as environmentally-friendly as they sound, according a recently published report by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The 104-page study into ”oxo-degradable” plastics, often labelled as degradable or biodegradable, found there was uncertainty about their impact on the natural environment.
Among the key findings:
(The) incorporation of additives into petroleum-based plastics that cause those plastics to undergo accelerated degradation does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects.
Oxo-degradable plastics are not compostable, according to established international standards EN13432 and ASTM D6400. Oxo-degradable plastics should not be included in waste going for composting, because the plastic fragments remaining after the composting process might adversely affect the quality and saleability of the compost.
It is thought that labelling the oxo-degradable plastics as biodegradable can lead to confusion on the part of consumers, who may assume that ‘biodegradable plastics‘ are compostable. This may lead to contamination of the composting waste-stream with oxo-degradable plastics.
In the wake of the study funded by DEFRA, ministers called on the industry not to claim the plastics were better for the environment than more conventional ones.