Definition Of Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic
Oxo-biodegradable plastic is often confused with biodegradable or compostable plastics, however, they are their own type of bioplastic.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic is a traditional plastic mixed with additives to assist in biodegradation so that the plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces (known as microplastics) that can breakdown in a landfill environment faster than traditional plastics. This type of plastic doesn’t require microorganisms to break down or a specific environment.
What Is Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic Made Of?
Oxo-biodegradable plastic is made from conventional plastic such as polyethylene, polystyrene or polypropylene, with additives such as metal ions iron, nickel, magnesium or cobalt which increase the ability for photo degradation of the plastic.
The idea of these additives is that when the plastic is exposed to UV light, the polymer chain breaks down into fragments over time. The additive assists the microorganisms in the environment to consume the plastic fragments This process happens with traditional plastics, however, with these additives the process is sped up.
Oxo-biodegradable plastic shouldn’t be confused with compostable or biodegradable plastic as it’s still made from traditional plastic, however, is made to breakdown in a normal landfill environment until it forms into smaller and smaller microplastics.
What Is The Difference Between Biodegradable And Oxo-Biodegradable?
It can be confusing to understand the different types of bioplastics from biodegradable and compostable to oxo-biodegradable, so what’s the difference? Oxo-biodegradable plastics are NOT the same as biodegradable plastics or compostable plastics as they don’t completely breakdown and don’t require specific environments to breakdown.
Biodegradable plastics are able to be decomposed by living things or bacteria, such as in a landfill environment, however, can leave behind some toxic matter when decomposing. Biodegradable plastics can take around 30 days to several months to breakdown, which is an improvement over the decades or centuries traditional plastics can take to breakdown.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics use metal salts or additives to commence the degradation process and make it more rapid than that of traditional plastics. This type of plastic doesn’t completely breakdown in a landfill environment and can also risk environmental pollution through the use of additives such as cobalt.
Are Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics toxic?
In an ideal decomposing environment (not traditional landfill) the resulting fragments would be claimed to undergo complete biodegradation in a facility. Oxo-biodegradable products may create more environmental pollution in a landfill environment as the small fragments are left behind.
They can also still produce problems in a marine environment where wildlife may consume the plastic fragments and become sick or die. The manufacturing process of petroleum-based plastics is also an issue when it comes to the release of greenhouse emissions.
When the plastic used is petroleum based, this is still pollution and toxic to the environment around it. Oxo-biodegradable plastics can’t be recycled into new plastic products, as the facilities can’t differentiate between conventional plastic and these altered plastics.
What Brands Of Oxo-Biodegradable Are Available?
With rising interest in alternative plastics as sustainable and ethical options, oxo-biodegradable plastics are becoming more common and more readily available. There are more than a dozen companies who manufacture oxo-biodegradable plastics in the world.
Oxo-bio is represented by the Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association at a global level and remains a small industry compared to compostable and biodegradable plastic manufacturers. Around 70 per cent of the current large batches of oxo-biodegradable plastics is manufactured by Symphony Environmental in the United Kingdom.
Other brands around the world include:
- EnerPlastics LLC (Dubai)
- EPI Global (Canada)
- International Plastics (US)
- Willow Ridge Plastics (US)
- Uni-PRO (Australia)
- Oxo-Bio Plastics (Australia)
How Do You Dispose Of Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics?
Oxo-biodegradable has no specific way of being disposed of, however, cannot be disposed of in a home composter, worm farm or industrial home composting facility. These plastics are best placed in a standard waste bin.
Most of the time, oxo-biodegradable plastics will be disposed of in landfill as the exposure to UV light will encourage the degradation process which will be more rapid than that of traditional plastics.
Disposing of oxo-biodegradable plastics:
- Don’t place into a home composter or worm farm.
- Don’t send to an industrial composting facility.
- Do place in your general waste bin.
- Don’t place in recycling.
- Don’t place out for kerbside collection.
- Don’t combine with green or garden waste collection.
In order to breakdown correctly, oxo-biodegradable plastics are made for a landfill environment with exposure to UV light. Any other methods will either become toxic for surrounding materials (such as composting) or not enable the materials to breakdown correctly.
Can Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic Be Recycled?
Although oxo-biodegradable plastic is ideally disposed of in a landfill environment in order to breakdown into smaller fragments, it cannot be recycled as a traditional recycling facility can’t tell the difference between traditional plastic and oxo-biodegradable plastic.
This means that any facilities where the two are mixed can render the other recycled plastics useless and contaminated. This then contributes to the negative impact of plastics on the environment.
The Controversy Around Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic
There remains a lot of controversy around oxo-biodegradable plastic across the world, with the plastic being seen as somewhat toxic due to its containing materials and inability to be completely broken down. Microplastics can still harm the environment.
In 2018, the European Commission announced that oxo-biodegradable plastics are not to be considered or claimed as biodegradable, with more than 150 organisations calling for a ban on this type of packaging.
In July 2021, the single-use plastics (SUP) directive imposed by the EU will come into play which includes the ban of oxo-biodegradable plastics. Some member states have already implemented this ban on single-use plastics, including oxo-biodegradable plastics.
Globally, oxo-biodegradable plastics have not yet been banned other than Europe’s upcoming directive coming into place.
Environmental Impact Of Oxo-Biodegradable Plastic
With the controversy surrounding oxo-biodegradable plastics, there have been several scientific studies that explore the environmental effects of this plastic alternative. One in particular, looked at a range of bioplastics and how they degraded over a three-year period in sea, soil and open-air environments.
After nine months of exposure in the open-air, all bag materials had disintegrated into fragments. However, bags including oxo-biodegradable plastic couldn’t be relied upon to show any ‘substantial deterioration over a three-year period in all of the environments.’[MR1]
The same study came to the conclusion that oxo-biodegradable bags couldn’t be relied on for advanced rates of deterioration that would mean the reduction of marine litter compared to traditional plastics. This could mean that choosing oxo-biodegradable plastic bags doesn’t help to reduce landfill contributions.
The bags were buried in soil, hung on a wall exposed to outside environments, submerged in a salt-water marine environment and other control samples were stored in a container. They were exposed to composting environments, landfill environments, marine environments and open-air.
The researchers then followed the progress of breakdown or decomposition over the three-year period and noted the results in a study published in April of 2019.
Confusion Between Plastics
Another concern with the introduction of plastic alternatives such as oxo-biodegradable plastics, is consumer knowledge and understanding of disposal methods. Unfortunately, consumers can become confused with the different types of plastics and how to dispose of them.
This can result in incorrect disposal and ineffective breakdown of materials. For example, confusing oxo-biodegradable plastic with compostable plastic can mean toxic plastic introduced into a composting environment or compostable plastic being placed in landfill where it will take the same time as traditional plastic to breakdown.
The microplastics that result from oxo-biodegradable plastic disposal can lead to toxicity in composting or worm farm environments.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics are an alternative to traditional plastics as they will breakdown faster than conventional materials in a landfill environment, contributing less to landfill contributions. However, they still contain traditional plastic which is toxic and harmful to the environment.
These plastics also don’t completely breakdown, as they fragment into microplastics which are left behind in the environment. They can also be toxic to marine life as wildlife can ingest the small materials left behind. They cannot be recycled, biodegraded completely or composted.
There are around a dozen manufacturers of oxo-biodegradable plastics around the globe yet this type of bioplastic remains controversial and not as widely used as biodegradable or compostable plastics. A study completed in 2018, noted that oxo-biodegradable plastics could not be sufficiently relied on to breakdown any more effectively and environmentally friendly than traditional plastic.
Overall, compostable plastics remain a better option for the environment, being ethical, sustainable and able to be broken down into organic matter when composted correctly. Oxo-biodegradable plastics look to be on the way out with bans already upcoming in Europe and being less available than other bioplastics.