Why did the EU ban ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics?

The restriction of ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics by Article 5 of the EU Directive 2019/904 was hastily introduced, and contravened due process (i.e. REACH Regulation 2006/1907). Indeed, it is not based on scientific evidence since a study of the environmental impact of oxo-degradable plastics by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) was prematurely terminated prior to a report being published.

The EU claim that oxo-biodegradable plastics, such as TDPA™ plastic, form microplastics, despite evidence to the contrary. This irrationality is further compounded by the fact that microplastic particles continue to be intentionally added to various products including cosmetics, clothing, detergents, medical, agricultural and horticultural products, yet there is still no EU ban on intentionally added microplastic particles.

If the ban of ‘oxo-degradable’ plastics was not on scientific grounds, what was the true reason? The ban is perhaps, politically motivated and aimed at eliminating competition from the oxo-biodegradable plastics industry, in order to protect the bioplastics industry, which is dominated by large multi-national corporations with significant lobbying power.

The bioplastics industry has considerable history in this regard, and has been targeting oxo-biodegradable plastics for more than a decade by spreading misinformation to discredit oxo-biodegradable plastics technology. This sustained misinformation campaign is exemplified by the 2009 publication by the European Bioplastics Association, which proudly trumpeted “Fighting Oxos – European Bioplastics Position on Oxo-Fragmentable Products”.

Oxo-biodegradable plastics technology is certainly a thorn in the side of the bioplastics industry as it is the most economical route to achieving plastics biodegradation – bioplastics resins are significantly more expensive than conventional plastic resins. Bioplastics have been in development for several decades, with major investment from multinational corporations who want a return on their investment. In this regard, the sustained misinformation campaign by the bioplastics industry is understandable as these corporations do not want to see commercial interests derailed by a competing technology that is not only practical but also affordable.