Oxo-degradable plastics: degradation, environmental impact and recycling

This paper summarises the results of a study to assess the environmental impact of oxo-degradable plastics. These plastics are mainly based on polyethylene and contain additives that cause the plastic to undergo oxidative degradation by a process accelerated by light and/or heat. The approach used in the study has been to review the published research on oxo-degradable plastics, assess other literature available in the public domain, and also to engage with stakeholders throughout the life cycle of the product. The main purpose of the study was to assess what happens at the end of life of the plastics and whether this has a beneficial effect. The study concluded that incorporating additives into petroleum-based plastics to accelerate their degradation does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects. In particular there is concern that these plastics are neither suitable for conventional recycling methods, due to the presence of degradation accelerators, nor suitable for composting, due to the lack of biodegradability. There is also concern about the fate of oxo-degradable plastic fragments in the environment.