Claims regarding the recyclability of degradable additives are unfounded, untested, and possibly misleading as outlined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guide.
No third-party testing data has confirmed these recyclability claims.
APR urges companies making such claims to share their supporting data with the recycling community.
APR is concerned that degradable additives will have a negative effect on mechanical recycling of postconsumer plastics because these additives could compromise the integrity or useful life of plastic packaging or durable products made from recycled resins that contain these additives.
The use of such degradable additives in packaging may render the packaging non-recyclable because they lower the functionality and sustainability of recycled postconsumer plastics when included with recyclable plastics.
Because degradable additives contaminate the plastics recycling stream, they must be kept isolated from recyclable packaging.
Any additive that involves time dependency and a decrease in molecular weight is a degradable additive and creates risk that packaging containing such additive is non-recyclable.
The degradation of otherwise recycled plastics means lost opportunities for the repeated use of molecules through recycling, which according to the 2018 Life Cycle Inventory Analysis of Recycled Plastics, has less environmental impact than single use of molecules.
Although APR has provided test protocols for time dependent degradation for over ten years, due to the concern and risks involved, APR does not consider items containing degradable additives eligible for APR Design® Recognition Programs.
It is also illegal in Alabama, California, and North Carolina to label a plastic product both “degradable and recyclable.”
The leading suppliers of degradable additives are Symphony Environmental, Polymateria, Carbiolice and BASF.
Symphony Environmental’s brand is “d2w” and has historically also been called “OXO” and they surf on the “biodegradable” claim.
The brand of Polymateria is “Lifecycle” and they surf on the “biotransformation” claim.
Carbiolice is a sub entity of Carbios and provides degradable additives for PLA under their brand “Evanesto” and they surf on the “home compostable” claim.
BASF has been commercialising PBAT and they have marketed it as a “co-polymer” that is usually added to bio-based plastic packaging such as PLA to make them “compostable” or to agricultural mulch films to make them “biodegradable”.
There has been an anti OXO campaign orchestrated by some compostable plastics companies (for instance the PBAT segment). The claim “biodegradable” for packaging has also been ostracised by the same companies.
Funnily enough, the claim “biodegradable” for PBAT is accepted when it comes to agricultural mulch films while the same companies have pushed to ban the claim “biodegradable” for (food) packaging.
What the recyclers mean to say is that “degradable” additives are some kind of contaminant for the recycling process.
In fact, many if not all additives could be considered as a contaminant for the recycling process …. colour additives for instance are a contaminant.
Labels are also a contaminant for the recycling process of PET bottles.
One should also know about the potential toxicity of recycled content in food contact material. In some countries, rPET is not allowed for food contact material due to its toxicity risks for instance.
Recent studies have shown that there are real health concerns when it comes to recycled plastics in food contact application.
Let us not speak about BPA and plasticisers that are often claimed to be toxic for human health and a potential contaminant for recycling.
Some people will say that degradable additives are a contaminant to the recycling process because they make the recycled content “weaker” in the sense that it becomes potentially more “degradable”.
Some people will tell you that recycling is a myth and that degradable additives are some kind of insurance policy in the case the plastic packaging is littered and ends up in the open environment.
What do I think? I think there’s a bit too much politics in plastics. The French have a nice saying ” à la tête du client” …. it depends who’s asking … it’s a basket full of crabs.
Eventually, any compostable and biodegradable plastics may be considered as a contaminant for the recycling process.
But then again, food and drink left overs are also a contaminant for the recycling process.
The PLA industry has surfed on the “compostable” claim but is more and more surfing on the “recyclable” claim.
As I said …. A la tête du client …