Two trade associations have called for restraint in the use of degradation additives in plastics, and warn that their use could lead to a valuable resource being lost.
US-based NAPCOR (The National Association for PET Container Resources) is concerned that there is no publicly available data to substantiate some claims made about degradability of PET. Its chairman Tom Busard said “We urge manufacturers of PET resin and packaging to refrain from introductions of degradable additive-containing products until data is made available for review and verification so we can better understand these products and their potential ramifications”. And EuPR, the European Plastics Recyclers Association, has taken issue about claims made for oxo-degradable additives and called for “industry to be watchful not to destroy the achievements of the past years in plastics recycling by using unsustainable technologies for plastics.”
NAPCOR’s specific concerns are that no data has been made publicly available to substantiate or document:
* the claims of degradability of PET polymer containing degradable additives;
* the effect of degradable additives on the quality of the PET recycling stream;
* the impacts of degradable additives on the products made from recycled PET; and
* the true impact on the service life of these products.
The organisation points out that the value of recycled materials, such as PET, is an important economic driver for kerbside recycling programmes. But that without the testing and data necessary to understand the potential impacts of degradable additives in PET, the whole PET recycling system could be at risk. According to NAPCOR executive director Dennis Sabourin: “We don’t yet understand the impacts that these additives could have on the quality of the PET recycling stream, let alone the impacts on the safety and functionality over time of next-use PET products like recycled-content PET packaging, carpeting, or strapping.”
Aside from the potential impacts on recycling, NAPCOR questions the value of the concept itself: whether or not it’s proven that packaging will safely degrade in landfills, or as roadside or marine litter, the value of the inherent energy used in the manufacture of plastic packaging is lost, not recaptured as it is through recycling and re-manufacturing.
The EuPR compares plastics with an energy bank. It points out that once the energy is stored by polymerisation, it can be transformed into stable products and, depending on the product cycle, the waste produced can be mechanically recycled or its energy recovered. “In both cases the plastic has an energy value.”
But it says the use of oxo-degradable additives will destroy the stored energy of the material. “It is an economic and environmental nonsense to destroy this value. Moreover, it is the most unsustainable – together with landfill – way to use the valuable oil transformed in plastic. The claim that greenhouses gases are being saved by the use of oxo-degradable additives is not a proven fact.”
EuPR is also concerned about the wider effects of introducing degradation additives into the recycling stream and says that the joint efforts done by all the stakeholders in order to achieve the European recycling targets is currently at risk. “The oxo-degradable additives will jeopardise mechanical recycling as they will pollute the existing waste streams. As a matter of fact, the consumer will not differentiate the different type of plastics and will throw everything in the same bin.”
The belief that oxo-degradation will relieve the problem of plastics litter is also addressed by both organisations. “Even if a package were to disappear or fragment – and we’ve not yet seen this evidence – it would not make the package sustainable, nor does it provide any positive impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or resource conservation,” said NAPCOR’s Dennis Sabourin. While EuPR suggests that public attention will be diverted from recycling by thinking, “it will degrade by itself”, which could actually increase littering as people would be less inclined to put their waste in litter bins.