Beware Of Describing Additive-Enhanced Plastics As ‘Biodegradable’, Volume 9, Issue 6

Beware Of Describing Additive-Enhanced Plastics As ‘Biodegradable’

Volume 9, Issue 6

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Beware Of Describing Additive-Enhanced Plastics As ‘Biodegradable’

Additives to make conventional plastics biodegradable have proponents and opponents. If a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Washington, DC, decision stands, whether one favors or opposes the concept won’t matter. The FTC ruling involves a biodegradable additive maker, ECM BioFilms (also doing business as Enviroplastics International), Painesville, OH.

Under the ruling, a conventional petroleum-based plastic may not be described as “biodegradable” unless it fully degrades into elements within five years after customary disposal, a requirement organic waste cannot meet.

“Nothing can predictably biodegrade in nature within five years because biodegradation is entirely dependent on environmental variables,” explains Jonathan Emord, Esq. of Emord & Associates, P.C., Clifton, VA, the law firm representing ECM BioFilms. Furthermore, he says, “Nothing breaks down into elements, but into compounds, so it’s impossible to meet the FTC standard.” The ruling also has free-speech implications since it prohibits truthful statements about biodegradability.

ECM BioFilms is appealing the FTC decision and has been granted its Application to Stay Final Order Pending Judicial Review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

ECM’s case began in October 2013 when the FTC filed an Administrative Complaint alleging the company’s claims related to the biodegradability of its additive and materials made with it were false or unsubstantiated. In an Initial Decision in January 2015, Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell found ECM BioFilms proved that plastics manufactured with its additive are anaerobically biodegradable and gas evolution is an appropriate test method to prove biodegradability. He also ruled the company violated the FTC Act by deceptively claiming, that plastics treated with the additives would completely biodegrade in a landfill within nine months to five years. Both sides appealed, leading to the October 2015 ruling. The ECM BioFilms case is one of several the FTC has brought against makers and users of oxo-biodegradable and anaerobically biodegradable additives.

Meanwhile opposition to biodegradable additives appears to be growing. In a position paper published on December 1, 2015, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), Charlottesville, VA, concludes biodegradable additives are not the most sustainable option. After evaluating usage in conventional petroleum-based plastics, the SPC paper concludes even if degradation occurs as advertised, the additives do not provide environmental benefits and may actually cause more environmental harm.

According to the position paper, biodegradability additives in conventional petroleum-based plastics:

  • Don’t enable compostability, which is the meaningful indicator of a material’s ability to beneficially return
 nutrients to the environment;
  • Are designed to compromise the durability of plastic, and the additive manufacturers have not yet 
 demonstrated an absence of adverse effects on recycling.

The paper also contends the creation of “litter-friendly” material is a step in the wrong direction, particularly when the plastic may undergo extensive fragmentation and generation of micro-pollution before any biodegradation occurs. In addition, the paper says, biodegradation of petroleum-based plastics releases fossil carbon into the atmosphere, creating harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“We strongly urge companies and government agencies to separate facts from misleading marketing language and help us generate the understanding that plastics are more sustainable without biodegradability additives,” states Adam Gendell, senior manager of the SPC.

He adds, “We’ve been disappointed by the uptake from brands and manufacturers, as well as governments mandating their usage in other countries, and we’re hopeful that our position will help inform better decisions. We feel strongly that the most ideal end-of-life scenario for petroleum-based plastics is recycling. There are ample opportunities for the sustainable usage of petroleum-based plastics, and we need solutions that help realize those opportunities. Unfortunately, biodegradability additives are not one of them.” 

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Pet Recycling Continues Growing

Recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers rose to 1,812 million pounds in 2014. However, the recycling rate remained stable at 31% due to growth in the volume available for recycling, which increased to 5,849 million pounds.

The Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2014, published by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Sonoma, CA, and the Association of Plastic Recyclers, Washington, DC, reveals gross exports of PET declined for the fifth year, falling to 23% of total postconsumer PET volume. At the same time, total pounds of recycled PET utilized in domestic end-use markets increased to the highest level to date.

“We continue to see strong domestic demand for recycled PET in fiber, sheet, bottles and other end-market sectors, with more than 773 million pounds of clean, processed recycled material closing the loop by going back into the production of PET bottles and packaging,” reports NAPCOR ChairmanTom Busard, chief procurement officer for Plastipak Packaging, Inc., Plymouth, MI, and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak’s recycling affiliate.

He concludes, “Despite some very real challenges in 2014, including low oil prices and volatile markets, the North American PET reclamation industry continues to process and market more material than ever before.”


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Flexible Packaging Stakeholders Work To Boost Recycling Rates

Results of the first phase of a study about ways to recycle more flexible packaging are expected by mid-2016. The project, Materials Recovery for the Future, is supported by brand owners, manufacturers and packaging industry organizations.

The first phase of the research, being undertaken by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), Ann Arbor, MI, will examine sortation technologies used in material recovery facilities. During the test, a representative mix of the flexible packaging generated by consumers will be added at an appropriate concentration to single-stream recyclables. This mixed stream will be run through the sorters, and the amount of flexible packaging captured in the resulting bale will be measured to determine sorting effectiveness.

“This new sortation research is critical in helping to close the recovery loop for flexible packaging,” explains Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, part of Dow Chemical Co., Midland, MI, a project sponsor.

“We believe that data from this collaborative research will help us learn how to recover and divert more valuable resins from landfills,” adds Diane Herndon, manager, Sustainability, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., St. Louis, MO, another project sponsor.

Other project sponsors include PepsiCo, Purchase, NY; Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, OH; Nestlé USA, Glendale, CA; Sealed Air, Charlotte, NC; SC Johnson, Racine, WI; the Association of Plastic Recyclers, Washington, DC; the Flexible Packaging Association, Linthicum, MD; and SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, Washington, DC.

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Can Industry Raises Money For Charities

The Great American Can Roundup Industry Challenge (GACR) sponsored by the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), Washington, DC, collected and recycled 193,213 pounds of beverage cans to raise more than $85,000 for local charities and boost awareness about the environmental benefits of recycling aluminum cans.



Rexam’s North American corporate office in Chicago, IL, took top honors, recycling more than 61,000 pounds of aluminum beverage cans and raising nearly $24,500 for local charities. As the winner of the challenge, the company received $2,000 to add to its donation.

Second place honors and $1,000 to augment its donation go to Ball Corp.’s plant in Findlay, OH, which recycled 38,364 pounds of aluminum beverage cans (equal to more than $17,400). Ball Corp.’s plant in Rome, GA, earned third place by recycling 10,199 pounds for a donation totaling more than $4,000.

The 2015 Challenge involved more than 40 plants and corporate offices operated by beverage can manufacturers or aluminum suppliers. With a rate of 67%, the aluminum beverage can ranks as the most recycled beverage package in the United States. Since its inception, the GACR Industry Challenge has recycled more than 7 million pounds of aluminum cans, generating more than $7 million for charities.

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APR Updates Its Name

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, Washington, DC, has changed its name to the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) to reflect the activity of current and prospective members. “It just seemed like we were limiting ourselves,” explains Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “I think it helps…eliminate any perceived barriers that exist between the post-industrial and post-consumer arenas.”

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Dairy Containers Lose Weight


Radiuses, ribs and angles on Dura-Lite™ containers from Consolidated Container Co. (CCC), Atlanta, GA work together to achieve gram weight reduction without sacrificing bottle performance or aesthetic appeal.

The symmetric ribs not only enhance the appearance of the bottle, but also provide strength in critical areas. A series of filling line and consumer testing confirmed compatibility with existing equipment and consumer appeal.

The result of a development partnership between CCC and Milacron Holdings Corp., Cincinnati, OH, the source-reduced dairy/water containers rely on Milacron’s Uniloy® brand blowmolding equipment and molds. CCC plans to begin offering Dura-Lite containers in 2016 in gallon, half-gallon and other sizes and various neck finishes.

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Chicago Hosts Sustpack 2016 In April

SustPack 2016: Business Made Sustainable will be held April 11-13, 2016, in Chicago. The conference organized by Smithers Pira, Akron, OH, and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, Charlottesville, VA, presents speakers from companies such as IKEA, Leiden, The Netherlands, and Nestlé USA, Glendale, CA, who will examine how packaging design and sustainable materials management can lead sustainable initiatives.

Attendees may select one of six behind-the-scenes tours of sustainability efforts at Method Soap Factory, Goose Island Brewery, The Field Museum/The Museum of Science and Industry, McCormick Place, Sketchbook Brewing CSB, and Lagunitas Brewery/Waste Management Harborview MRF (materials recovery facility).

The opening reception includes presentation of the second annual Trashies Awards, recognizing outstanding progress in sustainable packaging. Nominations may be made in five categories: Package; Process; Program/Public Message/Ad Campaign; Person; and Partnership. Submit nominations by February 12, 2016, in a written essay format to Liz Schoch at with e-mail subject referencing The Trashies.

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