Why should a government be interested in oxo-biodegradable plastic?
Plastic is a very cheap and useful material and is much better than paper and other materials for protecting goods in transit and for preserving food and water from contamination. It should not therefore be banned. In February 2011 the UK Environment Agency published a Life-cycle Assessment which showed that ordinary plastic bags have a better LCA than paper or compostable bags. The report also highlighted that HDPE plastic bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the CO2 emissions of paper bags.
The Report found that 76% of lightweight plastic bags were re-used, and that 53% of households re-used them as kitchen bin-liners. Other uses were as bin-liners in other rooms, as garbage sacks, and for a variety of other uses. The Report found that 18% were re-used for shopping.
The Report makes an important point about terminology. It says “We have avoided calling lightweight bags “single use” or “disposable”, because consumers are increasingly reusing lightweight carriers for shopping. Additionally a high proportion were used as a genuine replacement for another product and the secondary reuse of these bags plays an important part in reducing their global warming potential.” Indeed “The reuse of conventional HDPE and other lightweight carrier bags for shopping and/or as bin-liners is pivotal to their environmental performance and reuse as bin liners produces greater benefits than recycling the bags.”
There is however a problem, with which governments should be concerned, because in every country in the world some of the plastic will always find its way into the open landscape or the ocean, from which it cannot realistically be collected. Conventional plastic can lie or float around in the open environment for many decades.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic is designed to address this concern. Instead of banning plastic, governments should require it to be oxo-biodegradable, as the United Arab Emirates has already done.
This is almost exactly the same as conventional plastic. It is made with the same raw materials, machines and workforce, and it does not cause any loss of jobs.
There is no difference in strength or durability during its useful life, and it is available now - worldwide, and in unlimited quantities at very little extra cost. The only difference from normal plastic is that a pro-degradant formulation is added to 99% of normal polymer at the factory. The fundamental point about oxo-biodegradable technology is that the formulation turns ordinary plastic at the end of its useful life in the presence of oxygen into a material with a different molecular structure. At that stage it is no longer a plastic and has become a material which is inherently biodegradable in the open environment in the same way as a leaf. It cannot then entangle wild creatures nor block drains, and it is no longer a form of visual pollution. It does not leave fragments of plastic, and it is not toxic.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic biodegrades in a much shorter timescale than ordinary plastic. It does not contain heavy metals and is safe even for direct food contact. It can be recycled during its useful life.
The British Plastics Federation sent to the UK Government on 21st April 2011 a detailed scientific dossier, from peer-reviewed academic literature and from studies in independent laboratories, which proves the biodegradability, recyclability, and non-toxicity of oxo-biodegradable plastics.