The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Institute is the industry association for plastics that degrade by oxidation prior to biodegrading. Our members were interested in the Feb. 20 Mailbag from Irvin I. Rubin [“Push plastics use, awareness,” Page 6]. Mr. Rubin makes some good points supporting the utility of plastic bags and their use in preference to other forms of packaging, particularly paper bags.
We do not, however, understand his comment that “biodegradable plastics also lose all their energy and help produce methane.” If his point is that conventional bags will remain in landfills for energy recovery at a much later date, that may be possible but doesn't seem a reasonable basis for public policy.
Ideally, used plastic bags would all be recycled into new products or incinerated for their energy value rather than being placed in landfills. The oxo-biodegradable products of our member companies are amenable to both types of recovery. However, at least in North America, the percentage of recovered plastic bags, even in the best-performing recycling programs, is in the single digits.
As regards methane formation, biodegradable plastics are no different than any other organic material.
Oxo-biodegradable technology does not preclude energy recovery or the ability to recycle or reuse, nor does it promote the formation of methane. Rather, it obviates the one negative property of conventional polyolefins — their persistence in the environment after disposal — while leaving open all of the opportunities to recover value from them after use.