Co-op calls for moratorium on oxo-degradable plastics, while health and environment impacts remain unknown


Co-op is calling for a moratorium on the use of oxo-degradable plastics and similar materials in the UK after the British Standards Institution (BSI) published a new specification (PAS9017) which support the sale in UK markets of plastic materials that use additives to accelerates degradation.  

While oxo-degradable plastics will be banned across the EU from next year, very similar plastics are set to be allowed in the UK despite health and environmental implications being as yet unknown.

In the face of increasing evidence of microplastics entering the food chain through animals, fruits and vegetables, Co-op has partnered with other retailers, trade and industry bodies and added its name to an open letter highlighting shared concerns that these materials contain additives that accelerate the conversion of macroplastics into microplastics.

It is believed that labelling the oxo-degradable or similar plastics as biodegradable can lead to confusion on the part of consumers, who may assume that ‘biodegradable plastics‘ are compostable. The material is also considered unrecyclable in conventional plastics recycling streams. In addition, it is not a solution to littering as it will not degrade for approximately 2-5 years.

Furthermore, In 2010, a report completed for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) assessing the environmental impacts of oxo-degradable plastics across their life cycle concluding that the incorporation of additives into petroleum-based plastics that cause those plastics to undergo accelerated degradation does not improve their environmental impact and potentially gives rise to certain negative effects.

Iain Ferguson, environment manager, Co-op, said: “It is beyond concerning that the new specifications have been published despite repeated warnings of health and environmental impacts which appear to have been ignored or, not fully understood. The UK voted for the EU ban of oxo-degradable plastics when it was proposed in 2019 , and we believe enabling very similar materials to enter the UK market is a dangerous development which could not only cause environmental damage, but would also undermine recycling at a critical time when the world is experiencing an environmental crisis and we all need to work together to avoid it.”