Study shows degradable plastics mar recycling stream

Study shows degradable plastics mar recycling stream

By Bobby Elliott, Plastics Recycling Update

Nov. 21, 2013

A European study has found that both oxo-biodegradable bags and biodegradable bags negatively affect traditional plastics recycling streams.

The study, commissioned by the European Plastics Converters (EuPC) and carried out by an independent research firm in Austria, measured the impact of four different mixtures of degradable plastic film on LDPE plastic. In each case, researchers found the degradable plastic film compromised the quality and the look of the recyclate.

According to the study, even when degradable plastics accounted for just 2 percent of the overall material being recycled, both the mechanical properties of the plastic and its visual appeal were affected. At 5, 10 and 50 percent levels, the results were even more definite, with oxo-biodegradable carrier bags and biodegradable bags proving equally harmful to the mixture, the study concludes.

In a press release, EuPC's Managing Director, Alexandre Dangis, said the study provided overwhelming evidence that separating degradable plastics from non-degradable plastics should be a major priority for the industry. "Over the past years, there has been considerable concern in Europe surrounding the effects of biodegradable plastics on recycling streams," Dangis stated. "These test results now prove that separate collection of degradable plastic products is needed in Europe if we want to further develop recycling streams."

Just last month, Michael Laurier, CEO of Symphony Environmental Technologies, claimed that his company’s line of business — manufacturing oxo-biodegradable bags — was far different than producing biodegradable bags. According to Laurier, oxo-biodegradable bags can be recycled with all kinds of plastics, and Symphony has challenged EuPC and the U.K. government to prove otherwise.

As for the recent study, Symphony’s Michael Stephen told Plastics Recycling Update that nothing has changed for the company. "The report confirms our view that bio-based plastics cannot be recycled with oil-based plastics. We have not seen anything which invalidates the expert advice which we have received — that oxo-biodegradable plastics can be safely recycled during their useful life, with ordinary oil-based plastics."

According to Stephen, EuPC has not responded to Symphony's request to provide further evidence on the recyclability of oxo-biodegradable bags, adding, "We never receive replies from EuPC so we doubt that they are genuinely interested in learning about oxo-biodegradable plastic."

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