Oxo-degradable or oxo-biodegradable plastics are conventional plastics, such as High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), commonly used in carrier bags, which also include additives which are designed to promote the oxidation of the material to the point where it embrittles and fragments. This may then be followed by biodegradation by bacteria and fungi at varying rates depending upon the environment. It has been debated for some time whether or not these additives perform in the way in which their manufacturers claim they will, whether they cause harm to the environment, and whether they effectively make plastics recycling more problematic. In November 2014, Members of the European Parliament proposed an outright ban on “oxo-degradable” plastics within the EU. Although this measure was blocked, an amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, adopted in May 2015, commits the Commission to examine the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic on the environment; “By 27 May 2017, the Commission shall present a report to the European Parliament and to the Council, examining the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags on the environment and present a legislative proposal, if appropriate.” This study has been undertaken in response to that request and compiles the requisite information regarding environmental impacts of this material, to the extent that such information is available, in order to form an opinion on any appropriate actions to be taken. The report presented here draws on the available scientific literature in order to investigate the claims from the industry with regard to biodegradation in different environments, and compatibility with current recycling processes. Input from key stakeholders—including the industry itself—has been used during the review to understand the impacts of the use of these materials.
European Commission, Final report, April 2017, 166 pages