What is oxo-biodegradable plastic?

The word biodegradable has become more popular than ever before, but do you know that there are different types of biodegradable plastics, and they are not all as good as you might think!

What is oxo-biodegradable plastic?

A few metal salts and petroleum-based basic ingredients are used to make oxo-biodegradable plastic. Plastic's molecular structure can degrade when exposed to heat and oxygen thanks to the metal. The plastic will reach a stage where bacteria can break it down. By doing this, the deterioration is sped up from millennia to a few months or years. Once completely broken down, the plastic turns into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass.

Because it doesn't disintegrate through a biological process, oxy-biodegradable plastic is commonly referred to as "degradable" plastic. The degrading process will be accelerated by microbes. This sets oxo-biodegradation apart from existing techniques for plastic breakdown. The amount of exposure to factors that accelerate deterioration, such as heat, sunshine, and microbes, affects the time it takes for degradation to occur.

Bio- and oxo-degradable plastics: Insights on facts and challenges
(Bio- and oxo-degradable plastics: Insights on facts and challenges)

Plastic that is oxo-biodegradable starts to break down as soon as it is exposed to air. If plastic is utilised properly, it may survive for many years, but if it ends up in the trash, it degrades in only a year. Oxo-biodegradable plastic will degrade more quickly in a landfill if oxygen is available. Oxo-biodegradable polymers do not, however, produce methane during their degradation like other types of plastics do.

In short, oxo-degradable plastics are made with the standard fossil fuel, then treated with additives that cause the polymer to break down through oxidative degradation.

Is oxo-biodegradable good or bad?

The material, according to its detractors, does not genuinely biodegrade but instead disintegrates into small micro-plastics that are subsequently discharged into the environment, just like ordinary plastics. Micro-plastics have an estimated 400-year lifespan in the environment, during which time they can contaminate soils, streams, and the food chain. It is uncertain how these tiny pieces of plastic would affect humans, animals, and plants if they are consumed. To reduce the danger of microplastics getting into the food chain and to prevent the contamination of recyclable plastics, oxy-degradable plastics should be disposed of through residual trash collection.

The European Commission's Single Use Polymers Directive of 2019 places a market limitation on oxo-degradable plastics that forbids its commercialisation. Wales and Scotland in the UK have suggested enacting a similar ban.

While several EU Member States, such as France and Spain, have already set an example and limited the use of oxo-degradable plastics, some Middle Eastern and African nations are still encouraging the use of oxo-degradable plastics or have even made it mandatory. In nations without a functional waste management system, oxo-degradable plastics are mistakenly sold as a solution to the plastic waste and littering issues. However, it's important to take into account the damaging impacts on the ecosystem. This is why the European Commission's decision to take decisive action serves as an urgent and crucial signal to reduce the negative effects of oxo-degradable plastics on the environment.

A so-claimed biodegradable bag still could carry heavy items after months of being buried (internet)
A so-claimed biodegradable bag still could carry heavy items after months of being buried (internet)

Biodegradability is the substance or product's capacity to degrade naturally existing microorganisms including bacteria, fungus, and algae. In the process, biomass, carbon dioxide, and water are produced. There is no requirement for additives, and no environmental debris is left behind.
Composting is the process of enhancing biodegradation under controlled conditions—like temperature, humidity, and the presence of microorganisms. In the case of industrial composting, the specifications are spelled out in detail in generally accepted international standards like EN 13432 or ISO 18606. Various standards can and should control the framework requirements and pass/fail criteria for biodegradation in other contexts.

REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL on the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic, including oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags, on the environment