Position paper on landfill

1. The main benefit of oxo-biodegradability is not for plastic waste which is sent to landfill,
but for plastic waste which gets out into the environment, where it will accumulate for many
decades on land and in the oceans.

2. Some plastic waste will of course be collected and sent to landfill, and oxo-biodegradable (1)
plastic can be safely sent to landfill as it will not biodegrade in anaerobic conditions and will
not therefore emit methane, which is a dangerous greenhouse gas.

3. This is not true of bio-based “compostable” plastics, nor of plastics with “enzymatic” additives,
which should not therefore be sent to landfill at all.

4.The European Union has required (2) a massive reduction in the amount of biodegradable
material going to landfill, and plastics which biodegrade in landfill (which oxo-biodegradable
plastics do not) are therefore unacceptable in Europe.

5. It is likely that sending plastics to landfill will be banned altogether in Europe. In its Green
Paper published on 7th March 2013 (3) the European Commission says” From a resource
efficiency perspective, it is particularly important to prevent land-filling of plastic waste.
Any land-filling of plastic is an obvious waste of resources which should be avoided in
favour of recycling, or of energy recovery as the next best option.

6. Art 5 of the landfill Directive says:

Waste and treatment not acceptable in landfills

  • Member States shall set up a national strategy for the implementation of the reduction of
    biodegradable waste going to landfills …..
  • This strategy shall ensure that:
    (b) not later than [2009] biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills must be reduced
    to 50% of the total amount (by weight) of biodegradable municipal waste produced in 1995 ..
    (c) not later than [2016] biodegradable municipal waste going to landfills must be reduced
    to 35% of the total amount (by weight) of biodegradable municipal waste produced in 1995 ..

7. The aims of the Directive are stated in the following recitals at the beginning of the document:

  •  (3) The prevention, recycling and recovery of waste should be encouraged as should the
    use of recovered materials and energy so as to safeguard natural resources and obviate
    wasteful use of land.
  • Oxo-biodegradable plastics, like their traditional counterparts, can be re-used during their
    useful life and/or recycled and incinerated with high energy-recovery.

8. The most valuable asset for a landfill-operator is space. Plastic bags are extremely compact,
and plastic grocery bags and all plastic retail bags together take up less than 1% of space in
landfills – a tiny amount. However, conventional plastic bags take up more space than
necessary because they trap air, they do not disintegrate rapidly, and thus inhibit the
decomposition of their contents in the landfill.

9. Oxo-biodegradable plastics will disintegrate in the surface layers of a landfill so long as
oxygen is present. Oxygen levels will vary according to factors such as how loose or
compressed the waste was when it was buried, how much u/v light is available, and
how much further waste material or earth is added to the landfill over what period of
time. A fragmented oxo-biodegradable bag will settle more easily than an ordinary
plastic bag with trapped contents, and will occupy less space.

  • (4) further consideration should be given to the issues of incineration of municipal
    and non-hazardous waste, composting, bio-methanisation, and the processing
    of dredging sludges;

10. Oxo-biodegradable plastics can be incinerated with high energy recovery.

  • (12) protective measures [should] be taken against any threat to the environment in
    the short as well as in the long-term perspective, and more especially against the
    pollution of groundwater by leachate infiltration into the soil.

11. Oxo-biodegradable plastics do not cause harmful leachate infiltration, and oxo-biodegradable
additives approved by the OPA have been certified non eco-toxic.

  • (16) measures should be taken to reduce the production of methane gas from landfills,
    inter alia, in order to reduce global warming, through the reduction of the landfill of
    biodegradable waste and the requirements to introduce landfill gas control;

12. In the depths of a landfill, in the absence of air, Hydro-biodegradable (“compostable”) plastics
generate methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane is also highly combustible and
is a cause of fire and explosions.

13. The Report on “The impacts of degradable plastic bags in Australia” prepared by ExcelPlas/
Nolan-ITU on 11 September 2003 for the Australian Government noted at 7.3 that: “[hydro]
degradable polymers with starch content have higher impacts upon greenhouse due to methane
emissions during landfill degradation and N2O emissions from fertilizing crops.” Methane is
23 times more potent for global warming (4) than CO2.

14. Decomposition deep in a landfill is not therefore desirable. Whilst oxo-biodegradable plastics
fragment and biodegrade in the upper layers of the landfill (see above) and emit CO2 at a low
rate there in the presence of oxygen, they are completely inert deeper in the landfill in the
absence of oxygen.

15. Article 2 (m) of the Landfill Directive defines “biodegradable waste” as “any waste that is
capable of undergoing anaerobic or aerobic decomposition, such as food and garden waste
and paper and cardboard.” However, the reason stated in recital 16 above for reducing the
landfill of biodegradable waste does not apply to oxo-biodegradable plastics because, as
indicated in para. 13 above, they are completely inert in anaerobic conditions – unlike food
and garden waste, paper, cardboard, and hydro-biodegradable plastics, which all emit methane.

16. It is an important factor that an oxo-biodegradable plastic bag is much lighter than a paper,
cotton, or jute bag, and is even lighter than a hydro-biodegradable bag.(5) As municipalities
and  waste-management companies have to pay to put trash in landfills, and as charges are
based on weight, it costs much more to put paper, cotton, jute or hydro-biodegradable
plastic bags in a landfill than ordinary or oxo-biodegradable plastic bags.

17. Plastic should not be sent to landfill at all. After collection it should be recycled (6), or incinerated
for energy-recovery. However, the recycling option for a normal plastic waste stream is not
practicable for hydro-biodegradable(7) (or“compostable”) plastics, which have to be treated
separately and at high cost. Also, hydro-biodegradable plastics have a lower calorific
value when incinerated (5)

1. made from a by-product of oil in the same way as ordinary plastic, but with a pro-degradant additive which breaks the molecular chains and causes the material to degrade then biodegrade.

2. EU Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC

3.(COM(2013) 123 final)

4. IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change) Report page 47 www.ipcc.ch/pub/wg1TARtechsum.pdf
© Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association.

5.depending on the type of plastic, hydro-biodegradables are between 40% and 150% thicker and heavier than oxo-biodegradable for the same strength.

6. See OPA Position Paper on Recycling http://www.biodeg.org/recycling.htm

7. Usually made from corn starch or other agricultural derivatives