Can oxo-biodegradable plastics save environment?

Thursday June 22 2017

Rwanda led the continent in banning the use of

Rwanda led the continent in banning the use of plastic bags in 2008. Kenya announced a total ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic bags in February following Tanzania in 2016. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish, environmentalists warn.

Every year, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced and 78 per cent of this is not recycled. Some 8.8 million tonnes leak into the oceans annually, where they pose a threat to some 700 species of marine life.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there are already more than five trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans.

Some countries have taken steps to salvage the environment from plastic menace and in February this year, the UN launched the #CleanSeas Campaign.

The East African Legislative Assembly has passed the Polythene Materials Control Bill 2016 to ban polythene shopping bags in the EAC, within 18 months.

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Rwanda led the continent in banning the use of plastic bags in 2008. Kenya announced a total ban on the use, manufacture and importation of plastic bags in February following Tanzania in 2016.

But plastics remain a vital part of human life’s daily conveniences. Among the alternatives fronted as a solution to the plastics burden is the use of biodegradable plastic that decomposes naturally in the environment.

Shopping bags
According to SN Remmy Mark, executive director of Nordice Ecoflex, a Danish manufacturer of oxo-biodegradable additives, oxo-biodegradable plastic can be programmed to degrade in shorter periods of up to six months.

“Nordic works on all disposable plastics in a three-step process breaking down plastics into water, carbon dioxide and biomass making it completely environmentally friendly” he said.

Ghana, Togo, Pakistan and the UAE have made the use of oxo-biodegradable plastic mandatory.

According to the EALA Bill, incentives including financing from the East African Development Bank will be provided to firms that manufacture biodegradable packaging.

However, the UN thinks otherwise. In 2015, the United Nations environment Programme published a report on biodegradable plastics that revealed that they rarely actually degrade.

In May 2016, Jacquiline McGlade, chief scientist at Unep told the Guardian that biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution. “It is well-intentioned but wrong.

A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down at temperatures of 50C and that is not what you get in the oceans. They are also not buoyant, so they won’t sink.