European Parliament ban on oxo-degradable plastics is a non-science based political move.

The OBPF was highly disappointed that the European Parliament voted on 27th March 2019 to pass the proposed directive ‘ENVI/8/13273 F Reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment’ into legislation without removal of the Article 5 amendment regarding the inclusion of oxo-degradable products.

It was clear from the European Parliamentary session (viewed live by OBPF Chair) that far from being an open and structured debate, it was more akin to a process where MEPs were allowed 1-2mins to voice self-congratulatory sound-bites. Concerns raised by a few MEPs regarding the process that had been followed and/or the content of the proposed directive were either ignored or dismissed without discussion. This was clearly evidenced by the highly animated (over)reaction of Margrete Auken (Danish MEP and member of the Socialist People’s Party, part of the European Green Party) to Stuart Agnew MEP, who raised concerns, with a detailed explanation, of how the EU had by-passed its own procedures to include oxo-degradables in the legislation; a reaction which demonstrated both a lack of concern over procedural breaches and an obvious complete lack of knowledge of how oxo-biodegradable plastics actually work.

This lack of concern regarding the by-passing of established procedure was highly surprising and worrying, considering that Frans Timmermanns, First Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, made the opening statement to the parliamentary session. We must ask that if he is not prepared to uphold proper procedure then who is?

Regarding the published reasons for inclusion of oxo-degradables in this legislation:

“The market restrictions introduced in this Directive should also cover products made from oxo-degradable plastic, as this type of plastic does not properly biodegrade and thus contributes to microplastic pollution in the environment…..”

 The OBPF was formed to provide a balanced understanding of the science, technology and applications of oxo-biodegradable plastics, supported by independent scientific testing and peer reviewed academic studies. We welcomed the opportunity to provide expert opinion and data to both Eunomia Research & Consulting with regards the EC commissioned report investigating the impact of oxo-degradable plastics on the environment (submitted in 2017) and more recently with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) review with regards to a possible restriction dossier under Article XV of REACH. The Board Members of the OBPF worked diligently and in good faith to provide extensive data to both studies, visiting ECHA as required to discuss and explain the finer scientific details.

However, during the process of EC bodies gathering proper scientific evidence, we became aware that on 28 May 2018, the European Commission submitted a proposal for a Directive on “the reduction of the impact of certain plastics on the environment” 2018/0172(COD), this defined a number of specific waste prevention measures including a prohibition, in Article 5, on placing certain products on the market. At this point the Commission’s proposal did not mention oxo-degradable or oxo-biodegradable plastics, and thus no proposed prohibition.

Subsequently in October 2018 oxo-degradables were debated and then added to the legislation without any public consultation.

ECHA had notified their intention to undertake an investigation on 17th January 2018 into the environmental impact of oxo-degradables, and the anticipated submission date of an Annex XV report describing this investigation and any proposed restriction. The report was originally due by 11 January 2019, 3 months after the amendment regarding oxo-degradables was added to the Directive. However, ECHA informed the OBPF on 30th October 2018 that they had found no evidence that oxo-degradables form microplastics and that they had requested an extension to the submission date of the report for a further 6 months in order to complete the work.

At the time of this statement ECHA had still not had a decision communicated to them as to whether they were permitted to continue and complete the study or not.

Additionally it needs to be noted that the Eunomia Research & Consulting report commissioned by Directorate General Environment of the European Commission and published in April 2017 regarding the impact of oxo degradable plastics on the environment confirmed that oxo-biodegradable plastics do indeed biodegrade and that the debate on oxo-biodegradables should ‘move on’.

In light of the fact that the European Commission and all MEPs of the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament (two of the three co-legislators with the third being the European Council) had been provided with clear scientific evidence that oxo-biodegradables DO NOT form microplastics and DO biodegrade prior to the parliamentary session of 27th March 2019, it can only be concluded that the European Parliament took the decision yesterday purely on the basis of political reasoning.

Consequently the European Parliament, by being in breach of its own procedures and ignoring its own independent scientific advice is responsible for passing legislation which will have a negligible (if indeed any) effect on the global plastics pollution problem – the main self-congratulatory reason promoted in the parliamentary session of yesterday.

The legislation passed ONLY concerns oxo-degradable plastics which are differentiated from oxo-biodegradable plastics by definitions with European and ASTM Standards. The OBPF is concerned that this legislation could cause unnecessary confusion in the market place, such that the OBPF felt compelled to explain the current situation.

It is noticeable that where the many countries on a global basis who have gathered proper scientific evidence which has then been duly considered, has resulted in oxo-biodegradable plastics being positively legislated in favour of. The OBPF welcomes these countries and will continue to work with them to develop and promote effective standards for the application of oxo-biodegradable plastics.

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