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Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected

Date:
March 18, 2015
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Plastic products advertised as biodegradable have recently emerged, but they sound almost too good to be true. Scientists have now found out that, at least for now, consumers have good reason to doubt these claims. Plastics designed to degrade didn't break down any faster than their more conventional counterparts, according to new research.
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Plastic products advertised as biodegradable have recently emerged, but they sound almost too good to be true. Scientists have now found out that, at least for now, consumers have good reason to doubt these claims. In a new study appearing in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, plastics designed to degrade didn't break down any faster than their more conventional counterparts.

Susan Selke, Rafael Auras and colleagues note that to deal with our plastic waste problem, many countries and local governments have adopted laws, such as single-use bag bans, to deal with increasing amounts of trash. Most plastics end up in landfills, where they sit for decades or longer without breaking down. More recently, some manufacturers now make plastics with additives that are supposed to make the products biodegradable. But the effectiveness of this approach has been unclear. Selke and Auras's team wanted to see if the additives were working under typical disposal conditions.

The researchers evaluated plastics containing five different compounds designed to encourage breakdown. They found no evidence that the additives enhanced biodegradability in compost or under simulated landfill conditions, or when buried in soil for three years. They say their findings have wide-ranging implications for consumers, the environment and the companies that make these products.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Center for Packaging Innovation and Sustainability at Michigan State University.


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Materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Susan Selke, Rafael Auras, Tuan Anh Nguyen, Edgar Castro Aguirre, Rijosh Cheruvathur, Yan Liu. Evaluation of Biodegradation-Promoting Additives for Plastics. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 49 (6): 3769 DOI: 10.1021/es504258u

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150318130426.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2015, March 18). Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150318130426.htm
American Chemical Society. "Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150318130426.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

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