Environment secretary Michael Gove has reopened controversy over oxo-biodegradable plastics (OBPs) by declaring on television that he asked Government scientists to examine them as a “potentially exciting development”.
Speaking on the BBC’s One Show, Gove said: “One of the things we want to do with the money that any new plastic tax might raise is make sure that it actually goes into supporting innovation and making it more attractive to people to be in the recycling business.”
He said he had spoken to companies with interests in OBPs “and got our Government chief scientific adviser to look at the science behind it”.
“It’s a potentially exciting development,” he added. ”But we need to be certain, actually, that if we’re going to put public money behind some of these schemes that we are absolutely confident that we deliver the results that the inventors and the entrepreneurs behind them are so anxious to deliver.”
Gove’s comments are sharply different from the opinion of the European Commission. In January it said it would take steps to restrict the use of OPBs following concerns that the material fragments into microplastics that pollute oceans instead of being ‘eaten’ by micro-organisms as intended.
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.
Last November the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called in a report for a worldwide ban on the materials.
Rob Opsomer, lead for systemic initiatives at the foundation, said at the time: “The available evidence overwhelmingly suggests that OBPs do not achieve what their producers claim and instead contribute to microplastic pollution.
“In addition, these materials are not suited for effective long-term reuse, recycling at scale or composting, meaning they cannot be part of a circular economy.”
Michael Stephen, deputy chairman of Symphony Environmental Technologies, which manufactures OBPs, told MRW: “I think the Government has realised that something has to be done about plastics pollution and is aware of public concern.”
Arguments over the benefits and pitfalls of the materials have been raging for years, with research by a number of bodies being disputed by Symphony.