Biodegradation standard in development for plastic additives

The Plastics Environmental Council (PEC) has announced its sponsorship of a research study to product the first specification standards for landfill biodegradation of plastics that have derived from natural gas or petroleum. These plastics have been treated with additives that would enhance the biodegradability of the product. Plastic additives that do not interfere with the performance of the product during use are critical to the reduction of plastic waste in landfills and the PEC is undertaking the development of the biodegradation standards.

Despite consumer awareness concerning the volume of plastics in landfills and separate their consumer plastics such as milk and soda, the majority of plastics simply cannot be recycled for numerous reasons most commonly due to contamination and collection. According to the United States environmental Protection Agency, 13 million tons of plastic containers and packaging find their way to landfills in 2008. The PEC’s sponsorship to develop a landfill biodegradation specification standard is intended to address this issue.

Senator Robert McKnight, PEC chairman stated, “While we already know from various independent laboratory tests that our member companies’ additives are expected to be effective at speeding up the biodegradation of petroleum and natural gas-derived plastics in landfills, this will be the first-of-its-kind study to verify biodegradation rates of plastic waste treated with such additives under both laboratory and field conditions.” He continued, “The new standard will allow us to develop a simple certification seal that will inspire confidence in these additives from businesses, consumers and regulators.”

While most plastics that are derived from hydrocarbons are recyclable, they are simply not biodegradable without the addition of chemical additives. Without the additives they will remain in landfills essentially forever. Many of these chemical additives have been approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), are added to the plastic resins during the manufacturing process and will in no way alter the final product’s integrity, these chemicals are undetectable by the end user, and products containing them can be processed through current recycling methods.

The goals for PEC’s landfill biodegradability certification seal is to be available in approximately 18 months.

For further reading: Plastics Environmental Council/Packaging Digest