Oxo-bio claims challenged again as bioplastics row rumbles on

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biodegradation, Bioplastic

The oxo-biodegradable industry “likes to suggest seriousness where there is none", is the latest attack launched by a rival trade body as the battle between bioplastic factions shows no sign of easing.

European Bioplastics (EB) launched a second volley of criticisms this week as it challenged oxo-bio industry claims over biodegradability and recognised standards the industry said its products comply with.

The row was triggered last week when EB issued a statement distancing itself from the oxo-biodegradable industry, denouncing various claims it makes as “misleading" and "free of substance”. Specifically, EB disputed the validity of oxo-bio statements that its products biodegrade on the grounds that this could not be verified according to recognised international standards.

The Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Association (OBA) dismissed the EB charges saying its products were tested for degradability, biodegradability and non-eco toxicity against criteria laid down in American Standard ASTM D6954-04. It further accused EB of attacking it in a bid to protect its members’ commercial interests.

Not comparable

But EB’s managing director Hasso von Pogrell told FoodProductionDaily.com that the issue was “primarily about bringing about some clarification on claims that may sound similar, but actually are not at all comparable”.

He added that his group’s main concern with the oxo-bio sector is that it “operates with self-declared environmental claims. This implies a note of seriousness, where there is none”.

Several important pillars for correct environmental communication exist under ISO 14021, said von Pogrell, adding that one states: “An environmental claim that is vague or non-specific or which broadly implies that a product is environmentally beneficial or environmentally benign shall not be used.”

The EB chief also quoted the definition of degradable according to the standard as: “A characteristic of a product or packaging that, with respect to specific conditions, allows it to break down to a specific extent within a given time".

International standards

He said that while oxo-bio products claimed to be biodegradable, its manufacturers “have failed to show, as far as we know, for one, the final level of biodegradation - total or partial biodegradation - and, secondly, the biodegradation time. This means that both attributes characterising degradability, the specific extent and the given time, are not defined.”

Von Pogrell also raised concerns that oxo-bio products can be degraded under laboratory conditions only after a pre-treatment - as biodegradation would not start at the level of the plastic product. He queried what type of artificial treatment was applied in the laboratory to make them biodegradable.

OBA’s claim that its products complied with the American Standard ASTM D-6954-04 was also examined. Von Pogrell said that this was not an acknowledged standard but that: “It simply describes how to operate the test in the laboratory, but does not provide fail / pass criteria. This is the main difference to EN 13432, which provides strict criteria for the level biodegradation within 180 days.”

He said that while oxo-bio producers quoted standards and academic research papers to support claims, they had, to EB’s knowledge, failed “to show test reports produced by third party laboratories on specific, clearly traceable, commercial products sampled from the market.”​ The EB managing director said this was in contrast to EB members’ products which have “been fully tested by accredited laboratories in agreement with international standards and accredited certification bodies, which assure continuous market surveillance and have verified the results”.

He concluded: “We have no problem facing competition in the market. However, we cannot allow for truly biodegradable plastics to be mixed up with products that do not live up to acknowledged standards. The risk of disappointed customers turning their back on bioplastics altogether is just too high. This we must avoid, at all costs.”

The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association could not be reached for a comment prior to publication.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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