Biodegradable plastic pellets
Biodegradable plastic pellets

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Oxford expert advises on the use of biodegradable plastics

Use of biodegradable plastics can potentially reduce harmful, polluting plastic waste in the open environment and contribute to Green targets. But most such plastics only degrade in specific environments and should only be used in line with new recommendations from the European Commission’s independent Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA), led by Oxford Professor Nicole Grobert.

The GCSA recommends biodegradable plastics offer potential environmental benefits in the open environment over conventional plastics – but only in certain circumstances.

Assessing which specific biodegradable plastic applications can offer environmental benefits requires careful consideration

Professor Grobert, chair of the GCSA and Oxford Professor of Nanomaterials said: ‘The biodegradation of plastics is a complex process that depends on both the material itself and the conditions of the environment in which it takes place. Assessing which specific biodegradable plastic applications can offer environmental benefits requires careful consideration.’

Growing global demand for durable, lightweight and versatile materials, such as plastic, has led to an increased amount of plastic waste in the open environment, causing harm and pollution in land and marine ecosystems. But, since most biodegradable plastics only degrade in specific environments, the advisors recommend limiting their use to applications for which reduction, reuse, and recycling are not feasible, in order to support environmental targets.

The advisors recommend the development of coherent testing and certification as well as promoting accurate information on biodegradable plastics, their properties, use and disposal – and their limitations. The recommendations will contribute to informing the forthcoming Commission’s policy framework related to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics, and help define the main challenges and policy actions needed in this area.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: ‘The Scientific Opinion on Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment demonstrates that scientific research is indispensable to inform policy-makers. I am confident that these recommendations will help us to deliver on the Green Deal and the Horizon Europe Missions Healthy Oceans and Soil Health.’

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: ‘This report is an excellent example of the cooperation we need between academic research and policy makers, clarifying where using biodegradable plastics has clear environmental benefits. Its conclusions provide a sound basis for the policy framework for biodegradable and compostable plastics announced in the new Circular Economy Action Plan.’

The European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA) contribute to the quality of EU legislation through the provision of independent scientific advice to the Commission. They are seven eminent scientists, appointed in their personal capacities and who advise the Members of the European Commission.