Degradable petro plastics: Your thoughts?

Adding to the confusion of bioplastic definition (see comments on previous bioplastic post) is another growing sector, the development of biodegradable petroleum-based plastics.

I’m sure petroleum-plastics eventually degrade give or take a century or so (maybe even several decades if we’re lucky). But brilliant chemists have found ways to make petroleum-based plastics degrade faster – either by combining them with natural-based materials (e.g. polylactic acid, starch, sugar…) or by adding plastic degrading additives.

In April, American Trade Products (ATP) introduced its Earth Plastic, a 100% biodegradable and recyclable post-consumer plastic that has a proprietary blend of additives that enables it to break down in landfill and compost environments.

ATP said the resins are already being used in a line of 100% biodegradable paint

trays and sundries available at The Home Depot, select Wal-Mart stores, and Sherwin-Williams across the US.

Also in April, Enso Bottles launched their biodegradable polyethylene (PET) bottles EcoPure that uses plastic degrading additives from Bio-Tec Environmental.

According to Enso, the bottles have the same physical properties as standard PET, can be recycled like PET, but do not fragment, degrade or break down from environmental conditions such as UV, moisture and oxygen. EcoPure biodegrade through natural microbial digestion.

ENSO bottles assured that the degradable bottles have been tested and validated for recyclability and biodegradability through an accredited third-party laboratory using American Society of Testing Materials’ (ASTM) standard methodologies. ATP also had their products tested and certified as biodegradable by independent laboratories using the ASTM methods.

Why these assurances?

Because the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) are worried that there are no publicly-available data and testing on the potential impacts of these degradable additives to petro-based plastics’ function, properties, and recyclability.

These additives are now termed as biodegradable, oxo-degradable and some photodegradable.

Both groups are calling for resin and packaging manufacturers especially PET to refrain from introductions of degradable additive-containing products until data is made available for review and verification.

Another company, Planet Green Bottle Corporation, said it has developed a masterbatch additive through its joint venture partner, Wells Plastic of the UK, which causes a PET plastic bottle to become oxo-biodegradable in landfills, ditches, rivers and oceans.

Planet Green launched its oxo-biodegradable PET plastic bottle last March.

Stay tune for more bioplastic information from my upcoming article on June 29.

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5 Responses to Degradable petro plastics: Your thoughts?

  1. jw 16 June, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    I agree there should be publicly available data behind all these claims, to just slap on a “biodegradable” label does not help me as a consumer. Should I put a degradable plastic bottle in my trash and wonder if it’s going to a bioreactor landfill, dry tomb landfill, or incinerator? Would it be better off in my recycling bin, my backyard compost pile, or thrown into the river?

    I can’t help but assume that the many of these degradable plastics will not end up in the end-of-life scenarios they were presumably designed for.

  2. Max 16 June, 2009 at 10:59 pm #

    Interesting article. This year, more than 150 billion plastic bottles will be manufactured; of that, 70% will end up in a landfill, streams, and oceans. Should we sit back and wait for the growing sentiment against plastic water bottles to solve our plastic pollution problems? If we were to do away with all bottled water, plastic bottles would still be with us, not all plastic bottles are for water, many are used for soft drinks, tea, sports drinks, etc.
    ENSO Bottles is an environmental company; we feel that having biodegradable plastic is taking a realistic approach toward reducing plastic pollution. Our bottle, the ENSO Biodegradable Bottle, is currently the best solution toward reducing plastic bottle pollution. When the ENSO bottle biodegrades in a landfill environment it produces biogases which can be captured and used to produce clean energy.
    The ENSO biodegradable plastic bottle doesn’t biodegrade on the store shelf, warehouse or sitting on a pallet in the sunlight. The ENSO bottle is designed to biodegrade in an anaerobic or aerobic microbial environment.
    Our company supports the idea the idea that if a product is labeled as being “green” or “biodegradable” or “compostable” then companies manufacturing those products should provide test results to back up their claims.
    Humans can have a positive impact on our environment and one positive step forward is the development of true “Cradle to Cradle” sustainable products.
    Saving our environment shouldn’t be a struggle between manufacturers, or recycling verses biodegrading, or putting false or misleading labels on products; saving our environment should be about everyone working together to make our planet a healthy place for us and future generations.

    “Bottles for a Healthier Earth”
    Join our facebook group and become part of reducing plastic pollution.

  3. Markus 2 July, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Currently, there is NO certification for “biodegradable” products, only guidelines to test for biodegradability in a lab under ASTM. These guidelines don’t represent the real world conditions seen by these products such as in a landfill which has little to no microbial activity (aerobic or anaerobic).

    The ONLY current certification is for “compostable” products under various international standards such as ASTM D6400, EN 14432, ISO 14851 and Vicotte OK Compost. These products must degrade under industrial compost conditions in 90 to 180 day depending on the certification.

  4. John Baldus 27 July, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    Biodegradeable Products Institute will verify products for biodegradablity, and has several products tested., and I am in no way affiliated with the organization.

    USDA Biopreferred is working to get a listing of verification units that can certify products that advertise and use agri-feedstocks. The FTC will like that.

  5. Novon 28 July, 2009 at 7:19 am #

    I really get tickled when I see plastics companies clinging to the phrase “biodegradable” for some sort of salvation. Yet even their own trade groups are starting to distance themselves from the “oxo” charcters.

    I agree with the previous comment that the US-based BPI has made things very easy for legitimate manufacturers to get a scientifically supported test for real biodegradability. The rest of the lot are merely trying to take advantage of a lack of widely accepted standards and/or consumer ignorance.

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