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Biodegradable plastic 'false solution' for ocean waste problem

May 23, 2016

Biodegradable plastic 'false solution' for ocean waste problem

Adam Vaughan in Nairobi
Monday 23 May 2016 11.47 BST

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned.

Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report published on Monday found.

Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution.

“It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.

Speaking at the the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, where 170 countries are meeting and expected to pass a resolution on microplastics later this week, she added: “We have detected plastics in places as far away as the Chagos Islands [in the Indian Ocean]. Even if you are remote, you are not safe from it.”

More than 300m tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014 and that is expected to swell to nearly 2,000m tonnes by 2050 on current trends, the UN report said. While the exact amount that reaches the oceans is not known, the report concluded: “plastic debris, or litter, in the ocean is now ubiquitous.”

Read more at The Guardian.

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