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EU to restrict oxo-biodegradable plastics

European Commission

The European Commission said it will take steps to “restrict the use” of oxo-biodegradable plastics (OBP) across the EU following concerns that the material fragments into microplastics that pollute oceans.

The Commission’s plastics strategy, launched on 16 January, warned that biodegradable and compostable plastics could lead to greater littering and compromise recycled material streams unless they were clearly labelled.

The Commission wants to see harmonised rules for labelling compostable and biodegradable plastics, but indicated that OBP would be phased out.

A statement read: “As regards so-called oxo-biodegradable plastics, there is no evidence that they offer any advantages over conventional plastics.

“They do not biodegrade and their fragmentation into microplastics causes concern. Taking into account these concerns, the Commission will start work to restrict the use of oxo-plastics in the EU.”

But Michael Stephen, commercial director and deputy chairman at OBP firm Symphony Environmental, said that OBP was the solution to microplastics in the oceans, not the cause.

“We are in a position to prove that it does biodegrade very much more quickly than ordinary plastic on land or in the oceans.

“The environmental benefits of oxo-bio are obvious and are appreciated in other countries, but apparently not in Brussels.”

In November, more than 150 organisations, including the World Wildlife Fund, Marks & Spencer, PepsiCo, Unilever, Veolia and the British Plastics Federation recycling group, endorsed an Ellen MacArthur Foundation statement calling for global action against OBP to avoid “wide-scale environmental risk”.

Michael Stephen, commercial director and deputy chairman, Symphony Environmental

The EU strategy contains policies to reduce, redesign, reuse and recycle plastics, and to encourage Europe’s citizens to be more environmentally-conscious. We support all these policies, but the fact remains that, despite these efforts, thousands of tonnes of plastic waste will still be getting into the environment, and especially the oceans, for the foreseeable future.

This is so even in Europe which has modern systems of waste management, but the situation is far worse in the less developed world. The Commission seems blind to this problem, and there is therefore a black hole in its policy.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic is designed to address this problem, and we are in a position to prove that it does biodegrade much more quickly than ordinary plastic on land or in the oceans. If it had been used in the past, there would be no plastic garbage patches in the oceans.

The cause of microplastics is the fragmentation of ordinary plastic, and oxo-bio is the solution to microplastics, not the cause. The environmental benefits of oxo-bio are obvious and are appreciated in other countries, but apparently not in Brussels.

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