Recyclers should be worried about hydro-biodegradable or "compostable" plastics, because they will certainly compromise an oil-based recycling stream. Oxo-biodegradable plastics will not.
The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association supports the recycling industry, but recycled plastics are not normally degradable and will, like ordinary plastics, accumulate for decades if they get into in the open environment. However, recycled plastic and ordinary plastic can now be made oxo-biodegradable by the inclusion of a pro-degradant formulation at the extrusion stage.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics are now a fact of life. They provide a significant environmental benefit and they are increasingly popular. In 2008 one company alone sold enough formulation to make more than 5 billion plastic products.
This briefing is intended to assist recyclers and the public to understand the relationship between biodegradability and recyclability of plastics.
Oxo-biodegradable plastics have been in commercial use since the 1970s, and are based on commodity polyolefins, particularly polyethylene and polypropylene. Their performance during manufacture and use is indistinguishable from that of regular polyolefins, and their biodegradation is caused by formulations that promote transition metal ion oxidation in the presence of oxygen.