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The two main types are oxo-biodegradable and hydro-biodegradable. In both cases degradation begins with a chemical process (oxidation or hydrolysis), followed by a biological process. Both types emit CO2 as they degrade, but hydro-biodegradables (often containing starch) can also emit methane. Both types are compostable, but only oxo-biodegradable can be economically recycled.

Yes. Oxo-biodegradable plastic has been certified by RAPRA Technology Analytical Laboratories as safe for long-term contact with any food type at temperatures up to 40oC. RAPRA is accredited by the United Kingdom accreditation authorities as meeting the requirements of International Standards Organisation norm no. 17025.

In September 2007 the Commercial Packaging Manager of the Co-op said “I am happy to say that we are using Oxobiodegradable polythene films for direct food contact applications. We currently use these materials for pre-packed produce, self serve produce, pre-packed bread, frozen vegetables and fresh turkeys as well as for carrier bags. The approval for use has been based on the very strict EU requirements under EU Directives 2002/72/EC and 2004/19/EC relating to plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. We have been using these materials for food contact use since 2004.”

Oxo-biodegradable bags are also being bought by the UK Soil Association, and used for direct contact with organic food products. Addiflex is already approved by Normpack in Europe for food contact, has a letter of recommendation from Keller and Heckman for the FDA and in the process with the CFIA

In North America, most plastic are made from oil and gas by-product, unless the oil and natural gas is left under the ground, carbon dioxide will inevitably be released, but until other fuels and lubricants have been developed for engines, it makes good environmental sense to use the by-product, instead of wasting it by “flare-off” at the refinery and using scarce agricultural resources to make plastics.

Recently, interest has been shown in manufacturing sugar derived polyethylenes. These, like oil-derived PE, are not biodegradable, but they can be made oxo-biodegradable in the same way as the latter, by the addition of a pro-degradant additive.

No. Oxo-biodegradable plastic passes all the usual ecotoxicity tests, including seed germination, plant growth and organism survival (daphnia, earthworms) tests carried out in accordance with ON S 2200 and ON S 2300 national standards.

No, Addiflex contains some minerals typically found in mineral supplements and plant.

An important advantage of oxo-biodegradable plastic is that it can be programmed to degrade in whatever timescale is required. The average useful life of a carrier bag is about 18 months. During that time bags are often re-used for shopping or for use as bin-liners etc.

The plastic does not just fragment, the process continues until the material has biodegraded to nothing more than CO2, water, humus, and trace elements. The time can vary depending on the conditions.

Oxobiodegradable plastic can be made from recycled plastic, but Hydro-biodegradable plastic cannot.

Oxo-biodegradable plastics can be recycled with other clean commercial polyolefin wastes, provided that regard is had to the inclusion rate and the level of degradation, and that stabilisers are added where necessary. Hydro-biodegradable plastics cannot be recycled with other polymer components of waste. They would therefore have to be extracted from the waste stream and treated separately, at prohibitive cost.

It is difficult for recyclers to physically distinguish the two types of plastic so, the more that hydro-biodegradable plastic gets into the waste stream the greater the problem for recyclers

The main benefit of hydro-biodegradable plastics is that they can be composted if collected, but they have been called into question by recyclers. Addressing the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee conference in November 2006 Recoup’s project manager Sarah Dandy warned that bioplastics could have a negative impact on plastics recycling as a whole. “With compostable plastic packaging made from degradable starch-based materials and traditional plastics from oil-based ones, the fear is that bioplastics will increasingly find their way into the plastics recycling stream – impacting on quality and un-doing the work done on raising public awareness of plastics recycling.

  • Some are suitable only for industrial composting
  • Materials Recycling Week 20 Nov 2006

No. The process of making paper bags causes 70% more atmospheric pollution than plastic bags. Paper bags use 300% more energy to produce, and the process uses huge amounts of water and creates very unpleasant organic waste. When they degrade they emit methane and carbon dioxide.

A stack of 1000 new plastic carrier bags would be around 2 inches high, but a stack of 1000 new paper grocery bags could be around 2 feet high. It would take at least seven times the number of trucks to deliver the same number of bags, creating seven times more transport pollution and road congestion.

Also, because paper bags are not as strong as plastic, people may use two or three bags inside each other. Paper bags cannot normally be re-used, and will disintegrate if wet.

Oxo-biodegradable plastics fragment and partially biodegrade to CO2 and water in the surface layers of the landfill, but the residues are completely inert deeper in the landfill in the absence of oxygen. They do not emit methane.

By contrast, hydro-biodegradable plastics will degrade and emit CO2 in the surface layers of a landfill if there is enough microbial activity. However, in the depths of a landfill, in the absence of air, Hydro-biodegradable plastics generate copious quantities of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic does not degrade quickly in low temperature but Addiflex has a version of additive that can be used in most windrow and in-vessel composting systems.

No because hydro-biodegradable plastics are made from polyester, which is fossil fuel – derived, such as Ecoflex and sometimes starch.

Fossil fuels are burned in the machines used to clear and cultivate the land, and in the manufacture and transport of fertilisers and pesticides and in transporting the crop itself. Energy is also used by the autoclaves used to ferment and polymerise material synthesised from biochemically produced intermediates (e.g. polylactic acid from carbohydrates etc). When the material biodegrades it emits CO2 and methane, so the total fossil fuels used and greenhouse gases emitted are more than for conventional or oxo-biodegradable plastic.

Hydro-biodegradables usually made from food crops, and the fact that the crops are being used for energy such as bio-ethanol derived from corn is driving up the price of human and animal food.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic can be tested according to American Standard ASTM D6954-04 for Plastics that Degrade in the Environment by a Combination of Oxidation and Biodegradation.

Until recently there was no standard designed to test oxo-biodegradable plastic.

However, In July 2007 the French Standards organisation, AFNOR, published XP T 54-980, which is a Standard for oxo-biodegradable plastics in agriculture.

A draft standard 8472 capable of measuring oxo-biodegradation was published by the British Standards Institution in 2007.

European standard EN 13432 applies only to plastic packaging, and was written before oxo-biodegradable plastics became popular. It is not appropriate for testing oxo-biodegradable plastics because it is based on measuring the emission of carbon dioxide during degradation. Hydro-biodegradable plastic is compliant with EN 13432, precisely because it emits CO2 (a greenhouse gas) at a high rate.

Another unsatisfactory feature of EN 13432 is that it requires almost complete conversion of the carbon in the plastic to CO2, thus depriving the resulting compost of carbon, which is needed for plant growth, and wasting it by emission to atmosphere.

Conversion of organic materials to CO2 at a rapid rate during the composting process is not “recovery” as required by the European Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC as amended), and should not be part of a standard for composting. Nature’s lignocellulosic wastes do not behave in this way, and if they did the products would have little value as soil improvers and fertilisers, having lost most of their carbon.

If a leaf were subjected to the CO2 emission tests included in EN13432 it would not be considered biodegradable or compostable!

Packaging made from oxo-biodegradable plastic complies with para. 3(a), (b) and (d) of Annex II of the European Parliament and Council Directive 94/62/EC (as amended) on Packaging and Packaging Waste. This Annex specifies the essential requirements for the composition, and the reusable and recoverable, including recyclable, nature of packaging.

Oxo-biodegradable plastic satisfies para. 3(a) because it can be recycled. It satisfies para. 3(b) because it can be incinerated. It satisfies para. 3(d) because it is capable of undergoing physical, chemical, thermal or biological decomposition such that most of the finished compost ultimately decomposes into carbon dioxide, biomass and water.

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