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Degradation additives in plastics evokes a mixed response from industry

Additives that enable biodegradation of plastic materials have recently witnessed strong criticisms from few trade associations and recycling bodies alike. Interestingly, in some cases biodegradable plastics and additives have found acceptance by industry chain including notable retail giants, bottlers and food packaging majors. According to EuPR, the professional representative body of plastics recyclers in Europe, oxo degradable additives have been blamed of not clearly conveying a sustainable solution to generation of end-of-use plastics waste. EuPR indicates that these additives will diminish the inherently stored energy of the materials, augment littering instead of putting a hold on it and most importantly threaten the targets set for mechanical recycling. As a result, the Europe’s recycling think-tank issued a release asking the industry not to wash off the past achievements in plastics recycling by using oxo-degradable additives for plastics. The body says using these additives in plastics products has ‘more drawbacks than advantages’.
Another major urge for restraining use of degradable plastics additives came from National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), a trade association for the PET plastic industry in the United States and Canada. The PET packaging body expressed concern that no data has been made publicly available to substantiate or document:
  a) the claims of degradability of PET resin products containing degradable additives;
  b) the effect of degradable additives on the quality of the PET recycling stream;
  c) the impacts of degradable additives on the products made from recycled PET;
  d) the true impact on the service life of these products. NAPCOR has strongly called for proper testing and verification of such additives before they are introduced into the consumer product stream. According to NAPCOR, the quality of the recyclate and value of recycled materials, such as PET, plays a significant role in PET recycling programs.
UK-based manufacturer of oxo-degradable plastics and pro-degradent additives, Symphony Environmental rubbished allegations made by EuPR. As per the company, EuPR’s claims that degradable plastics encourage waste litter were totally baseless. The company maintained that recycling oxo-degradable plastics was possible. Further, it made a point that degradable plastics could self-disintegrate themselves in case they failed to reach the recycling streams. Symphony held that its concept of oxo-degradable plastics was misinterpreted by EuPR and that there was a need of detailed dialogue with the industry value chain. EuPR, which called plastics as an ‘energy bank,’ pointed out that the use of OXO degradable additives will completely destroy the stored energy of the material. Further, the EuPR stated that the oxo-degradable additives will put at risk mechanical recycling as they will pollute the existing waste streams and that independent evaluations of the recyclability of these materials were missing.
In March, Planet Green Bottle (Canada) and its strategic partner, Wells Plastics (UK) introduced its branded additive; Reverte™ which it claimed causes a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle to oxo-biodegrade in 10-15 years. The company slated this additive to be an insurance policy against the 76% of all PET plastic bottles that are not recycled each year. Both Planet Green as well as Wells Plastic maintained they were pro-recycling and that PET plastic bottles manufactured with the advantages of the Reverte™ additive do not contaminate the recycling stream.
Symphony Environmental launched the World's first d2w™ 100% degradable metallized polypropylene film for snack foods, in conjunction with Organizacion Barcel, a subsidiary of Grupo Bimbo Mexico. The company says this material contains a pro-degradation additive -- d2w™ -- which includes a bio-degradation function to the packaging once their useful life is over. This follows the extensive trials and successful use of Symphony's d2w™ additive in the packaging for Bimbo's bread and other products. Grupo Bimbo is the largest food company and undisputed leader in the national baking industry in Mexico and many Latin American countries. As per a press statement, the company aims to use metalized polypropylene degradable packaging for all product lines by the end of 2010. As far as the process is concerned, the pro-degradation additive is incorporated to the resin when manufacturing the packaging material; this, the company says helps to break the long molecular plastic chains. Thus, the plastic begins to degrade as soon as its predetermined useful life comes to an end. Symphony maintains this breakdown process is the result of oxidation, and finally, whatever microorganisms are present in the environment, complete the process through biodegradation.
Consumer products like paint trays and sundries made with a line of 100% biodegradable plastics have found their way into leading US retail chains including The Home Depot, some Wal-Mart stores, and Sherwin-Williams. The products, manufactured using Earth Plastic™, a revolutionary plastic material that is 100% biodegradable. Earth Plastic™ was recently introduced by American Trade Products (ATP), an industry leader in thermoformed plastic products, and said that the plastic was manufactured from recycled plastic and a proprietary blend of additives that enables it to break down in landfill and compost environments. Further, the company maintained that Earth Plastic™ additives disintegrated plastic into soil-like material that is ‘not harmful to the environment.’ ATP’s press release stated that Earth Plastic™ additives were tested and certified as biodegradable by independent laboratories using American Society of Testing Materials’ (ASTM) standard methodologies. ATP said the products used substantial amount of post consumer recycled plastic and were completely biodegradable.
Bio-Tec Environmental (USA) recently announced completion of a new round of "green products" testing on its biodegradable plastic solution EcoPure, its second generation additive that makes green products by turning regular plastic into biodegradable plastic. The ASTM D5511 test was run on polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE) and ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) at an independent lab, and the results are conclusive that EcoPure makes plastics biodegrade in a microbial rich environment, when used at a 0.7% concentration. The material has already been shown to be perfectly safe for food and drug packaging, and meets FDA standards, the company says. According to the company, EcoPure allows microbes to digest the carbon inside the complex plastic chain which are beneficial in two ways. Firstly, the plastic breaks down into simple organic compounds, says the company and secondly, it also creates methane which can be captured from the landfill and used for energy production. As a result, Bio-Tec Environmental maintains that its EcoPure additive results in an easy, sustainable solution for our environment.
Enso Bottles, in April, unveiled their biodegradable PET bottles in partnership with Bio-Tec Environmental employing the latter’s plastic degrading additives. According to the company, these biodegradable PET bottles have the identical physical properties like that of standard PET and biodegrade through natural microbial digestion. Further, the bottles can be recycled like PET, but do not disintegrate under the influence of UV light, moisture and oxygen. ENSO Bottles have been tested through third-party laboratories for compliance with numerous ASTM standards for both biodegradation and recycling.
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